I ran a cross this sentence:

Some experts believe that when we sleep curled up in a fetal position, we're exhibiting an unconscious longing for the sanctuary of the womb.

  1. If curled is replaced by curling, would it be exactly the same in meaning?

  2. Is "Verb + Ved" common in English? I somehow can't think of other examples, can I use Ved to describe verb freely as in the above sentence? For example: When he hit pierced the wood, he doesn't feel pain.


There are two ways of understanding the participle phrase Curled up in a fetal position:

  • Traditional grammar would understand it as an adverbial describing how we sleep.

  • Many contemporary grammarians would understand it as a "secondary predicate"—that is, this construction is a way of incorporating a second description of the subject we, equivalent to "We are curled up in a fetal position* into the primary predication We sleep.

I incline toward the second interpretation because this aligns the construction with others which employ a frank adjective, making an adverbial interpretation very awkward:

Her teeth gleamed white in the moonlight.
We allow our children to run free in the yard.
Some of us sleep naked, while others wear pyjamas.

Curled should be preferred over curling in this case:

  • the -ing form (present participle) implies an action carried out or repeated throughout the action of the main clause:

    He slept breathing heavily.
    He slept curling and uncurling restlessly.

  • the -en form (past participle) implies an action carried out once and effecting a state which persists throughout the action of the main clause:

    He slept curled up in a ball.
    He slept stunned by exhaustion.

Note that while with an intransitive verb the secondary predicate modifies the subject, with a transitive verb the secondary predicate may modify either the subject or the object:

The waiters served our coffee {naked / dressed as 18th-century footmen}. The waiters served our coffee {black / with whipped cream}.

You may examine other instances of this construction under the tag.

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There is a slightly different meaning between using curled and curling. Both refer to a balled up position, the fetal position is a curled up position usually associated with babies having legs drawn in.

Curled up is the name of the position, similar to upright, spread eagle, or flat.
It refers to how one sleeps:

When we sleep curled up, we take up less room on the bed.
When we sleep stretched out, we take up more room on the bed

Curling up would refer to the act of getting into a curled up position.

When we sleep curling up into a ball...
When we sleep stretching out across the bed...

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