I saw him crossing the road.

Before, I asked a question regarding the differences between certain sentences in which "cross" and "crossing" were involved.

Now, I have a new question for which I hope no one think it is a duplicate, albeit I cannot exclude for sure this case.

Problem is that there is no parallelism between gerund and participle between English and Italian, so the sentence above can be translated in two senses:

  1. the first implies that "I" is crossing the road and, during the crossing, "I" saw "him" ("l'ho visto attraversando la strada", where "attraversando" is Italian gerund);

  2. the second implies that "him" is crossing the road and "I" saw "him" when "him" was crossing the road ("l'ho visto che attraversava la strada", where "che attraversava"="attraversante" is, the latter, Italian participle).

Hoping of having explained the doubts I have, can anybody explain if an English-speaker sees ambigutiy in the sentence above? Or, do I imagine things, so this is a not real question?

  • In Italian the difference is between l'ho visto attraversare la strada and l'ho visto attraversando la strada. Notice that a gerund works as noun, but what in Italian is called gerundio never works as noun, as you don't say mi piace mangiando. – kiamlaluno Apr 16 '13 at 21:53
  • Also, che attraversava doesn't mean attraversante. Ho visto che attraversava la strada in English is "I saw that he crossed the street." Where English uses the simple past, Italian can use the passato prossimo (ho visto) or imperfetto (attraversava). – kiamlaluno Apr 16 '13 at 22:01
  • kiam, I disagree and you should not apodictically state that "che attraversava" doesn't mean "attraversante". Just now I see a sign through the window "Il pubblico entrante e' invitato ad attraversare i tornelli", where "entrante" is present participle and, without changing in meaning, it can be replaced with "che entra". However, I'm waiting IL&U starts so that we can talk about the Italian language there. – user114 Apr 16 '13 at 22:38
  • In that case, uscente is used as adjective. That doesn't mean you can always replace che usciva with uscente; you surely cannot say l'ho visto uscente instead of l'ho visto che usciva, and settimana uscente doesn't mean settimana che esce/usciva. – kiamlaluno Apr 17 '13 at 10:05

Oh, yes, there is certainly room for ambiguity there. I would probably guess that

"I saw Paul crossing the road"

means that Paul was crossing, and I was somewhere nearby, but

"Crossing the road, I saw Paul"

would probably mean I was crossing, and that's when I spotted Paul. However, the first sentence could indeed have the second meaning; consider it a shortened or abridged form of "I saw Paul [while I was] crossing the road."

  • 1
    I dunno. While I can certainly see where such a misinterpretation could come from, I would maintain that it is a misinterpretation: if you want to say that you're the one crossing the road, you have to add a "while" in there ("I saw Paul while crossing the road") or restructure it as you did in your second example. – Martha Apr 16 '13 at 21:05
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    @Martha: I agree; if a speaker wants to say, "I saw Paul while I was crossing the road," that's what the speaker would usually say. As for "I saw Paul crossing the road," that would most likely mean that Paul was the one crossing, although the alternate interpretation is still a valid one – even if it is unlikely to be what the speaker meant. Still, I could see such a construct being deliberately used in a paraprosdokian, perhaps: I saw Paul crossing the road... and that's when the bus hit me. – J.R. Apr 16 '13 at 21:34