This portrait was drawn using watercolors. (PP at the end, Passive Voice)

Using watercolors, the artist drew this portrait. (PP at the front, Active Voice)

The artist drew this portrait, using watercolors. (PP at the end, Active Voice)

I get confused when I want to use present participles acting as adverbs. How we should use comma in these cases? In terms adverbial clauses with subordinate conjunctions, I know how I should use comma. It is very straight forward.

Similar things on the Internet:

In this link, and on this page, there is a bunch of discussions in the case of the present participles coming at the end of a sentence.

  • Maybe "This picture was painted in watercolor/with watercolors?" or "This painting was done ...?" The first sentence sounds somewhat unnatural in a passive voice. Don't you think so? – Victor B. Jun 17 '16 at 10:04
  • @Rompey They are just examples concocted by me! The key idea is about the comma. Perhaps, I constructed bad examples. – Cardinal Jun 17 '16 at 10:10
  • 2
    The first example seems fine. It sounds like some is explaining the details of a painting, like at an art gallery. Although, maybe use "watercolors". I'm not sure though. They both seem fine to me. – Em. Jun 17 '16 at 10:25
  • 2
    The first sentence is awkward since drawings are drawn, and paintings are painted. "The painting was done using/in watercolours" sounds more natural, but it's only an example for syntax. – Peter Jun 17 '16 at 10:55
  • 1
    @Rompey I don't know. I mean I don't read it that way. Maybe because logically, a painting cannot draw itself, so my mind discards that possibility. So maybe you are right that you can read it that way. To Cardinal, example two also seems fine, though maybe "colors". In the third one, you are missing something between drew and _painting, like a/the/this. Also, I think it is wrong to use a comma, but I have no proof. Also, Peter brings up another good point. I didn't occur to me because the issue is the comma, not the verbs. – Em. Jun 17 '16 at 10:59

As far as commas are concerned, the first two sound correct to me, while the last one does not. Someone with more knowledge of formal grammar rules might be able to give a more exact answer, but to me

The artist painted this portrait using watercolors

Sounds correct.

I would guess this has less to do with the difference between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses, like in the link you posted, and more to do with the word "using". In your example, I believe "using" is acting as a preposition and not a participle. For example, the sentence is equally valid as:

The artist painted this portrait with watercolors.


The policeman stopped the criminal using a stun gun.

could be understood as

The policeman stopped the criminal with a stun gun.

Importantly, there is ambiguity in the first one about whether "using" is a participle, which would mean the criminal is using a stun gun, or a preposition, so in this case using "with" would be preferable. Because a portrait can clearly not "use" watercolors, 'using' only makes sense as a preposition.

Good question, though.

  • Thanks, such ambiguities in using reduced clauses or present participles really bother me and make me hesitate about correctness of the sentence. Consequently, I forced to use Ngram and google search. Is there any chance that previous contents overwhelm such ambiguities? It was my question for a while. – Cardinal Jun 17 '16 at 16:06
  • "Is there any chance that previous contents overwhelm such ambiguities?" I'm not quite sure what you mean by this. Can you rephrase it? – noah Jun 17 '16 at 17:10
  • with a gun or using a gun, if placed after "criminal", could be taken to mean that the criminal had the gun. If you want to make clear that it was the policeman who used the gun to stop the criminal, you would relocate the phrase: "Using a gun, the policeman stopped the criminal" or "The policeman, using a gun, stopped the criminal" or better yet, "The policeman used a gun to stop the criminal". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 17 '16 at 17:21
  • Oh sorry, I mean the can such ambiguity be overwhelmed by the previous sentences in the context? – Cardinal Jun 17 '16 at 17:24
  • I think so, yes. For example, if a news story said: "Police arrested a bank robber without incident today. A policeman stopped the robber using his stun gun". Technically that ambiguity still exists, but it would almost certainly be understood just fine. – noah Jun 17 '16 at 17:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.