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The Amours of the Chevalier de Faublas

The moment he saw me, he came to me laughing, and without giving me time to say a single word, he threw his arm round my neck: let me embrace you, my dear Faublas!

In Google Books there are some pieces similar to the above I quoted from "The Amours of the Chevalier de Faublas"; similar in reference to the presence of "came to me laughing" or "came laughing to me".

Unfortunately, I have some difficulty in understanding the meaning of these kind of sentences, where "came [laughing] to me [laughing]" appears, in reference to the agent of the verb "laughing".

The Italian language doesn't have a similar problem because there is a clear distinction between the gerund—whose definition is different from English—and participle.

So, let us consider the following sentences:

  1. Juliette came to me laughing.

  2. Juliette came laughing to me.

  3. Laughing, Juliette came to me.

  4. Juliette came to me, laughing.

In 1 and 2 I'm not able to distinguish who is laughing, whether Juliette or me.

So, first, can a native speakers figure out who is laughing?

Secondly, are 3 and 4 sentences enough clear to affirm that Juliette is laughing?

  • @snail, how can you exclude that "laughing" is not the status of "me" when Juliette came? – user114 Mar 29 '13 at 15:32
  • We don't say "came to me laughing" or "came laughing to me" when we mean "came to me {when/while} I was laughing". – user264 Mar 29 '13 at 15:39
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I'm sure there's some bigger grammar rule here, but in simple terms: The verb "came" in English is unusual in that it is often combined with another verb. Perhaps it would be considered a helping verb, like "is". But anyway, we often say, "He came laughing", "He came running", "He came talking", "He came struggling", etc.

So in "Juliet came laughing to me", "came laughing" is a composite verb.

"Juliet came to me laughing" is just an unusual word order for the same idea.

"Juliet came to me, laughing" is really grammatically quite different, even though the only visible difference is the comma. Now the verb of the main clause is simply "come", and we have an incomplete clause "laughing", tacked on. I don't think that sentence conforms to normal grammar rules, though it's meaning is clear so I wouldn't be afraid to use it.

(I'll happily yield on this one to someone who can describe the specific grammar rules at play here. As a native English speaker, I know exactly what is meant and how people routinely phrase it, but I'm hard-pressed to cite the applicable rules.)

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  • I find it odd that you identify "came laughing to me" as the norm and the other two as outliers when it is the most stilted and uncomfortable choice. Indeed "came laughing to me" as a phrase yields 4,400 hits on google whereas "came to me laughing" yields over 4 million – horatio Mar 29 '13 at 17:34
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to me refers to the action came and is the indirect object. In my opinion, came and laugh do not really correspond together.

So I think Juliette is laughing in all four phrases.

Juliette came to me laughing.

This is the normal way I would say it.

Juliette came laughing to me.

I'm undecided as to whether this is wrong, but it certainly sounds unnatural.

Regarding 3. and 4., they use a comma pause for clarity and emphasis.

Laughing, Juliette came to me.

emphasizes Juliette's action. I think its like "While laughing, Juliette came to me.

Juliette came to me, laughing.

emphasizes laughing. I think its like "Juliette came to me, and she was laughing."

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Always remember that the verb refers to the subject of a sentence or clause. The subject is something or someone that is doing something, while a verb describes what happens.

What you are probably mixing up are the subject and the object of a sentence. The object is something that is being used by, or happening with the object. I prefer to parse sentences in the following way:

  1. Deternime the verb by changing the tense (e.g. from simple to perfect or from past to present)

  2. Deternime the subject by asking myself: "Who or what --verb--?"

  3. Deternime the object by asking myself: "Who or what do --subject-- --verb--"

    here's an example:

I see something

  1. "I saw something." Aha! see changed, that's our verb!
  2. Who or what see? I see. That's our verb!
  3. Who or what do I see? something, that's our subject!

This means that in the example, I is the subject, see is the verb and something is the object. Because verbs refer to the subject, I see something, not something.

Laughing, Juliette came to me.

This case is special, the comma means that there are two sentences: "Laughing," And "Juliette came to me." Now, you are allowed to splice a sentence if the two have something in common and they do. If you do splice with a comma, you may also leave out the subject in either of them if they are exactly the same and if they are still the subject of both sentences (it is a bit more complex, but for the scope of this answer, let's leave this out). In this case the subject in both sentences are the same, but let's parse the second sentence first to figure out our subject.

  1. "Juliette is coming to me." Came changed, that's our verb.
  2. "Who or what came?" Juliette came. Juliette is the subject.
  3. "Who or what came Juliette?" Juliette came to me. Me is the object.

So, because is our subject and she is left out of the first sentence, and Juliette is the subject, is the one laughing.

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