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My friend says that "Finishing her homework, she went for a walk." is wrong.

She thinks that this sentence implies that she is trying to finish her homework while taking a walk. If the girl went for a walk because she is already done with her homework, then it should be "Having finished her homework, she went for a walk." she says.

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  • Why does your friend think it's wrong?
    – phoog
    Mar 19, 2016 at 4:50
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    I think both sentences are equivalent. There may be a nuanced difference, with the two actions (finishing homework and going for a walk) linked more closely in the original than in your friend's final version. The original doesn't carry the sense that the homework was finished during the walk. That would require adding "while" - e.g. She went for a walk while finishing her homework.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 19, 2016 at 13:04

2 Answers 2

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While I agree that:

Having finished her homework, she went for a walk.

is more clear, I think context and common sense would tell us that the original sentence means the same thing:

Finishing her homework, she went for a walk.


Many writing guides tell us to avoid dangling modifiers, and sentences with this same structure are used as examples:

Running for the bus, my book fell in the mud.

Having finished the assignment, the TV was turned on.

Hoping to excuse my lateness, the note was written and given to my teacher.

However, the original doesn't suffer from this problem, because the subject is clearly identified:

Finishing her homework, she went for a walk.


Insofar as general conversation goes, I think the original sentence would be fine and your friend overly pedantic. On the other hand, if you were writing a formal manuscript, you might want to follow your friend's advice. In a writing advice column, one editor makes this same point:

Unlocking the door, she left the room.

Do you see why [this sentence doesn't work]? You can’t unlock the door and leave the room at the same time.

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  • @Alan - I agree. However, if I heard someone say that sentence, I would understand what they meant, and I wouldn't correct them. Hence the difference in acceptability between formal writing and informal conversation. Related. Put another way: Yes, the original is "wrong," but a lot of native speakers would have to really think about it to notice or figure out why.
    – J.R.
    Mar 20, 2016 at 4:21
  • @AlanCarmack - I was merely answering the question as asked: My friend says, "Finishing her homework, she went for a walk." is wrong. I just think "wrong" is a bit of a strong word for it. Had the friend said it's "problematic" or "in need of editing," I would agree with the friend. And the question doesn't say if we are referring to conversational English or written English, so I tried to answer from both perspectives.
    – J.R.
    Mar 20, 2016 at 10:11
  • @AlanC - Of course it's not bad to "really think" about grammar. But I stll think we can make allowances in conversational English. (Technically, Lou Costello should have said, "I pick up the ball, and I throw it to whom?" but we let that one go – naturally.)
    – J.R.
    Mar 20, 2016 at 11:35
  • I've had to edit my answer to come into agreement with you. Apr 19, 2016 at 1:02
  • I removed some leading spaces in this answer as an edit, so I could upvote it. No text was changed. Jul 18, 2016 at 4:10
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Thomas Hardy writes:

Oak was amused, perhaps a little astonished, and hanging up the hat in his hut, went again among his ewes.

Note 'Oak' is a surname here (e.g. Mr Oak or Gabriel Oak), and this quote comes from Far from the Madding Crowd.

We can highlight the relevant part of the sentence as

hanging up the hat in his hut, [he] went again among his ewes.

This sentence is parallel to the one you ask about. It is clear from common sense and the sentence construction that Oak first hung up his hat and then went out among his ewes (female sheep).

Hardy could have used having hung up but he didn't. And this should provide at least one example from real English to show your friend.

By sentence construction, we read English left to right and word order is important.

The sentence

She finished her homework and went for a walk.

would naturally be taken, without anything else to hint to the contrary, to mean that she first finished her homework and then went for a walk.

An argument can be made that the word order (rather, phrase order) helps determine the meaning in the sentence you ask about, and in the one Hardy writes.

To show this let's reverse the order of phrases.

She went for a walk, finishing her homework.

It is natural to take the two actions as occurring at the same time, especially since both going for a walk and finishing her homework can take a long time.

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  • On the surface, your answer and mine might seem to disagree, but I definitely concur with your conclusions.
    – J.R.
    Mar 22, 2016 at 9:37

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