13.3.3 Gerundio as a substitute for a subordinate clause
We are going to discuss once again the possibility to subsitute subordinate clauses with a gerundio or the use of the gerundio as an adverbial adjunct. There is a distinction to be made between the gerundio passato and the gerundio. The gerundio describes simultanity, posteriority with the action / event of the finite verbs. The gerundio passato describes anteriority.
simultanity / posteriority
Potendo fare ciò che vuole, è felice.
If he can do what he want to do he is happy.
Avendo potuto risolvere il problema, era felice.
Having been able to solve the problem, he was happy.
The gerund as an adverbial adjunct
The gerundio is basically an adverbial adjunct. It doesn' t match with anything, is invariable, refers to the finite verb and has the same subject as the finite verb.
Laughing HE left the room.
Ridendo uscì dalla stanza.
Laughing THEY left the room.
Ridendo uscirono dalla stanza.
From a grammatical point of view there is no difference between these two sentences.
Laughing he left the room.
Slowly he left the room.
Laughing and slowly have the same function from a grammatical point of view. Both are adverbs and describe how the action is performed. The present participle doesn't establish in this use a temporal relationship (not: While he was laughing, he left the room) nor a casual relationship (not: Because he was laughing he left the roome), nor a condition (not: If he was laughing, he left the room), nor a contradiction (not: Although he was laughing he left the room). It just describes how the action is performed.
What is to be seen now is that the English gerund, contrary to the English present participle, can never be used as an adverb or an adverbial adjunct, but the English present participle can be used as an adverb and as an adjective. The Italian gerundio however can NEVER be used as an adjective. In a few words: Only the present participle used as an adverb / adverbial adjunct or as a substitution of a subordinate clause can be translated with the Italian gerundio. If the present participle is used as an adjective, it can' t be translated with a gerundio.
Let's see an example. In English the present participle can be used as an adjective, the Italian gerundio is an adverb and can' t be used as an adjective. The reason for that is quite easy. An adjective must agree in gender and number with the noun it refers to, but a gerund can't agree with a noun because it is invariable.
I see the laughing man / the laughing woman.
wrong: Vedo l' uomo ridendo / la donna ridenda.
The reading boy / the reading girl is blond.
wrong: Il ragazzo leggendo / la ragazza legenda è biond(o/a).
A present participle used as an adjective can only be translated with a relative clause because only a relative clause can match in gender and number with the noun it refers to.
I see the laughing man.
I see the man who laughs.
not: Vedo l' uomo ridendo.
but: Vedo l' uomo che ride.
We will see later that the case of the participio passato is different. The participio passato can be used an adjective.
(Note: The gerundio in Spanish and the gérondif / participe présent in French are used more or less the same way as the gerundio in Italian. For those who are interested in this kind of comparison see www.learn-spanish-online.de and www.french-online.de)
In the case that the gerundio is used to substitute a subordinate clause a distinction it to be made between anteriority and simultanity / posteriority. In the case of anteriority a construction with the infinitivo or participio passato is possible as well, although sometime there is a subtle difference in the meaning.
Gerundio as an abbreviated temporal clause
Leggendo il giornale mangiavo una pizza.
Reading the newspaper I ate a Pizza.
Avendo letto il giornale, mangiavo una pizza.
also: Letto il giornale, mangiavo una pizza.
also: Dopo aver letto il giornale, mangiavo una pizza.
Fumando una sigaretta, beveva un caffè.
Smoking a cigarette he drunk a coffee.
Avendo fumato una sigaretta, beveva un caffè.
also: Fumata una sigaretta, beveva un caffè.
also: Dopo aver fumato una sigaretta, beveva un caffè.
Parlando con lui, si rese conto che si era sbagliato.
Talking with him he got aware that he was mistaken about him.
Avendo parlato con lui, si rese conto che si era sbagliato.
also: Parlato con lui, si rese conto che si era sbagliato.
also: Dopo aver parlato con lui, si rese conto che si era sbagliato.
After having spoken with him he got aware that he was mistaken about him.