(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
One of the most common grammar questions I’ve been asked by students or tutors whom I’ve trained or new teachers whom I’ve mentored concerns sentences like:
“While eating our dinner, we enjoyed the sunset.” [Subordinator (While) + Verb-ing (eating).]
Question: Grammatically speaking, what is “eating”?
It’s called a reduced form. The writer is reducing an adverb clause to a phrase.
Original sentence: While we were eating our dinner, we enjoyed the sunset.
Reduced form: While eating our dinner, we enjoyed the sunset.
We can use these with subordinators like before, after, while and since.
This phrase can come at the beginning of a sentence as in the example above and in the title of this post or in the middle of a sentence:
She bumped into a chair while she was looking at her smartphone.
She bumped into a chair while looking at her smartphone.
Two points that students need to know
First, the reduced form is always verb-ing no matter what the clause is.
(original) After he got the job promotion, he became very busy.
(mistake) After got the job promotion, he became very busy.
(correct) After getting the job promotion, he became very busy.
Second, we cannot reduce the clause if the subject in the dependent and independent clause is different.
(original) While her mother was driving the car, the baby fell asleep.
(mistake) While driving the car, the baby fell asleep. (It sounds like the baby was driving the car.)
Good style for students to use to avoid repetition and for variety
Good writers, when possible, will try to avoid repeating the same word. They can do this by using reduced forms.
(repeated word) Before I go to sleep, I always check under the bed for monsters. (“I” repeated.)
(avoided repeat) Before going to sleep, I always check under the bed for monsters
Here is an inductive set of exercises that will lead to students to understand the concept and to be able to use it in their writing. Feel free to try it out with your students. Reduced Adverb Clauses Exercises
For more similar inductive exercises for writing courses, see Writing Strategies