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  1. "Opening the file, John called David."

If we assume that the above sentence means 'after opening the file, John called David', can I give the same meaning by using the following sentence?

  1. "John, opening the file, called David."
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    I would never use either sentence like that unless the two actions were happening at the same time.
    – D_Bester
    Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 6:59

2 Answers 2

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"Opening the file, John called David."

Sometimes the present participle can indicate that one action follows quickly after another. This prefers some kind of logical or cause-and-effect relationship between the two actions.

Notice the word connected in your grammar book:

we can use participle clause when two short, connected actions are close in time, even if they don't happen at exactly the same time.

My example:

Opening the envelope, I found five hundred dollars.

The relationship between the two actions is perhaps best expressed by

Upon opening the envelope, I found five hundred dollars.

or

I opened the envelope and found five hundred dollars.

It is not best expressed by

After I opened the envelope, I found five hundred dollars.

The above sentence does not express the same thing as the present participle. Because after does not require a logical or cause-and-effect relationship, and it does not require one action to happen immediately, almost simultaneously as the other. The sentence with after is better expressed by

Having opened the envelope, I found five hundred dollars.


To get back to

Opening the file, John called David.

If you, as the writer, feel that there is a "connection" (relationship between these two actions, logical or cause-and-effect or something else), then the present participle is fine. Only you as the writer knows if such a connection exists.

The same goes for

John, opening the file, called David.

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    @CarSmack But one of my grammar books says "we can use participle clause when two short,connected actions are close in time, even if they don't happen at exactly the same time."
    – Dinusha
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 8:11
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    Yes, Dinusha. I thought about that, and your book is correct. And I am editing my answer.
    – user6951
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 8:15
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    @Jason S a preposition? Where? What?
    – user6951
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 16:38
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    @Jason S I agree that in the sentence of the OP the two classes halves of the sentences don't stick together well. It is up to the writer to make sure a relationship exists, (so that the reader can infer it). Please see the link in my comment above this one, thanks.
    – user6951
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 17:26
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    @F.E. With all due respect, I stand by this version of my answer (which you consider wrong). I have given a link that supports my answer. Tell sailboat to come over here and upvote my answer. :)
    – user6951
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 17:32
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The OP's question is: Do they mean the same thing. The answer is yes.

The more common way to phrase it (assuming the two actions were happening at the same time) would be:

While opening the file, John called David.

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