Going by Raymond Murphy's English Grammar in Use, we can use the -ing clause when two things happen at the same time. And it's also stated there, we use -ing when one action happens during another action.

Do two things happening at the same time, and one action happening during another, mean the same thing?

If I were to construct a sentence that read I wrote that letter to you,(while) getting yelled at by my mom. And that is probably why there're so many spelling mistakes in that., would it be grammatically correct? Is not using the while in the sentence okay?


1 Answer 1


Two events or actions can be simultaneous and not causally related; two events or actions can be simultaneous, the one the incidental result or effect of the other.

while is optional when one of the actions is already in progress and the first action is not the cause of the second, even though it may be related to it:

(While) getting yelled at by his mom, he put on headphones.

He put on headphones, (while) getting yelled at by his mom.

Rome burning, Nero fiddled.

Nero fiddled, Rome burning.

Rome burned, Nero fiddling.

Nero fiddling, Rome burned.

He ran down the street naked, (while) shouting "Eureka!"

(While) shouting "Eureka!", he ran down the street naked.

We would probably not use while with the Eureka! example above on stylistic grounds, but it is not ungrammatical.

But while is not to be used when the participle clause refers to an incidental result of the first action:

The bull ran through the china shop while breaking dishes.

since while introduces that which is already ongoing.

  • I came across this site where I read that we use participles to describe an action that happens just before another action. For example.. Opening the envelope, I found two concert tickets. (I opened the envelope and I found two concert tickets.) Going by that, if I used a sentence like Lowering his voice, he said ......, not wanting it to mean While lowering his voice, he said...., but wanting it to mean He lowered his voice and said... Jul 27, 2016 at 8:45
  • How can his voice be lowered before he speaks, when voice is understood to mean the sound coming out of a person's throat?
    – TimR
    Jul 27, 2016 at 12:23
  • With respect to the envelope, the discovery is coincident with the opening. Opening, though it may be quickly accomplished, takes time, as does discovery and recognition, and the two are happening simultaneously. The wider the envelope is opened, the more is seen of what's inside it.
    – TimR
    Jul 27, 2016 at 12:28
  • We can speak of the voice being lowered before sounds emerge only if we understand the conversation as a series of utterances, each one preceded with an intended volume. That said, I wouldn't quibble over "He lowered his voice and said..." except in the context of this discussion of simultaneity.
    – TimR
    Jul 27, 2016 at 12:36

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