13.1 some thoughts about the gerund and the present participle

The gerund and the present participle are very powerful constructions in English. With powerful we mean that complicated subordinate clauses can very often be substituted by a much shorter and simpler gerund or present participle. If you have ever wonder why a German novel is so much thicker than the English version you are going to find the explication for that phenomenon in this chapter. In German only in a view cases a subordinate clause can be substituted by a present participle. The romance languages have a position in between. The gerondif / gerundio is not as powerful as in English, but much more powerful than in German.

Let's start with some example. Let's see which kind of subordinate sentence can be substituted by a present participle. (About the difference between a present participle and a gerund we will talk later. To keep it simple: The present participle correspond to the GERUNDIO in romance languages and NOT to the English gerund. The English GERUND is a VERBAL NOUN, the GERUNDIO of the romance languages is NEVER a verbal noun. The English gerund can be used as a noun, can be subject as well as an object of a sentence, the GERUNDIO of the romance languages can NEVER be used as a noun. The English word gerund comes from the Latin word gerundium and in Latin as well the gerundium is a verbal noun. That's why the English world gerund is correct, the word gerundio is not correct because the gerundio of the romance languages is never a noun.)

From a grammatical point of view all the -ing forms of the sentences below are present participles. They must be translated with a gerundio to Italian.

some examples for subordinate clauses which can be substituted by a presen participle
  causal clause (The event / action of the main clause is the consequence of an event / action in the subordinate clause)
  Having lost his job he couldn' t pay the rent.
  causal clause: Because he has lost his job, he couldn' t pay the rent.
  temporal clause (There is a temporal relationship between the action / event of the main clause and the action / event of the temporal clause.)
  Listening to her he watched the children playing in the street.
  temporal clause: While he was listening to her he watched the children playing in the street.
  if clause (The action event of the main clause depends on a condition described in the if clause.)
  Working more and speaking less, he could finish his work today.
  if clause: If he worked more and would speak less he can finish his work today.
  concessive clause ((Indicates that there is a contradiction between the action / event in the main clause and the action / event in the subordinate clause)
  Being riche he was not happy.
  concessive clause: Although he was riche he was not happy.

If you take a closer look at this kind of construction you will see that the constructions with the present participle doesn't reveal the relationship between the main clause and the subordinate clause. Only if there is a conjunction, in other words, if we construct with a subordinate clause, the relationship between the main sentence and the subordinate clause is revealed. In other words, the subordinate clause, introduced by a conjunction, reveals the relationship, but if the subordinate clause is substituted by a present participle, the brain has to reconstruct the relationship through its knowledge of the real world.

Let' s see un example

=>Knowing that he was not at home , they went there.
a) Because they knew that he was not at home, they went there.
b) Although they knew that he was not at home, they went there.

There is an enormous difference between a) y b). In the case a) they went there knowing that nobody was at home to rob the house. In the case b) they went there without bad intentions, perhaps hoping that he or she will appear later. The fact that the substitution with a present participle / gerundio is only possible with some subordinate clauses is perhaps due to that. If all the subordinate clauses could be substituted by a present participle / gerund it would be impossible to deduce the meaning or at least the sense would be sometinmes unclear.





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