Modifying Adverbial Phrases
The previous three lessons introduced common adverb clauses and explained how each is used. Sometimes you can change (or reduce) one of these adverb clauses to a modifying phrase. A modifying phrase contains fewer words than its full adverb clause equivalent and can add variety to your writing.
Rules for Reducing Adverb Clauses to Modifying Adverbial Phrases
(What you can and can’t do)
If an adverb clause contains the “to be” form of a verb, omit the subject of the dependent clause and the be verb.
While I was driving to work, I got stuck in traffic.
While driving to work, I got stuck in traffic.
If an adverb clause does not contain a “to be” verb, omit the subject and change the verb to –ing.
Before I took the exam, I reviewed my notes.
Before taking the exam, I reviewed my notes.
Notice that in both instances the subject of the adverb clause and the main clause are the same. An adverb clause cannot be reduced to a modifying phrase if the clauses have different subjects. A modifying phrase that is a reduction of an adverb clause always modifies the subject of the main clause:
While his wife was taking a shower, John made breakfast.
You can’t reduce this clause to a phrase without changing its meaning. If you were to try, you’d end up with something nonsensical like this:
While taking a shower, John made breakfast.
That must have been quite a feat!
Watch out for dangling participles or dangling modifiers when reducing adverb clauses to modifying adverbial phrases. A dangling modifier is one that is left “hanging” without a noun or pronoun to modify. Here’s a fairly obvious example of why this is a problem:
While writing this blog, the doorbell rang.
Unless the doorbell itself was writing this blog, this sentence makes absolutely no sense. In this case, you need to provide an appropriate subject and “be” verb:
While I was writing this blog, the doorbell rang.
Changing Time Clauses to Modifying Adverbial Phrases
As shown above, adverb clauses beginning with while can be changed to modifying adverbial phrases. Clauses beginning with after, before, and since can also be reduced to modifying phrases. Here is an example of each.
Since Ellen returned to school, she has been very busy.
Since returning to school, Ellen has been very busy.
Before Ellen returned to school, she had a lot of free time.
Before returning to school, Ellen had a lot of free time.
After she (had) finished her classes, Ellen went to work.
After finishing her classes, Ellen went to work.
After having finished her classes, Ellen went to work.
Sometimes while is omitted from phrases that express the idea of “during the same time.” In these cases, the –ing phrase at the beginning of the sentence expresses the same meaning:
While May was shopping at the grocery store, she ran into one of her teachers. (Clause)
While shopping at the grocery store, May ran into one of her teachers. (Phrase)
Shopping at the grocery store, May ran into one of her teachers. (Phrase with “while” omitted)
Expressing Cause and Effect in Modifying Adverbial Phrase
When expressing cause and effect with modifying adverbial phrases, the word because is not included. The –ing phrase expresses cause and effect on its own. This is similar to how while can be omitted from “during the same time” clauses. Unlike the optional omission of while, it is mandatory to drop because when reducing a cause and effect clause to a phrase.
Because she needed to buy a new car, Rachel applied for a loan from the bank. (Clause)
Correct Reduction to a Phrase (Omitting “Because”):
Needing to buy a new car, Rachel applied for a loan from the bank.
Incorrect (“Because” Precedes the –ing Verb):
Because needing to buy a new car, Rachel applied for a loan from the bank.
Using having + past participle (-ed verb) expresses the meaning of not only because but also before. You can pair this type of phrase with past and present (but not future) tense main clauses:
Having been to that restaurant many times before, I didn’t want to go again.
Having been to that restaurant many times before, I don’t want to go again.
If you want to make sure that the cause and effect relationship in a modifying phrase is clear, you can change the form of be in the adverb clause you are reducing to being. The three examples below all have the same meaning. However, the third one further emphasizes the cause and effect relationship.
Because she was unable to afford a new car, Rachel applied for a loan from the bank.
Phrase without being:
Unable to afford a new car, Rachel applied for a loan from the bank.
Phrase with being for Clarity/Emphasis of Cause and Effect:
Being unable to afford a new car, Rachel applied for a loan from the bank.
Using “Upon + -ing” in Modifying Adverbial Phrases
Modifying phrases beginning with upon + -ing usually have the same meaning as clauses that begin with when (“at that time”). Upon is rarely used by native English speakers in everyday conversation. It is more common to use the shorted form on. The following examples share the same meaning:
When I reached the summit of Stone Mountain, I took a photograph of the park below.
Upon reaching the summit of Stone Mountain, I took a photograph of the park below.
On reaching the summit of Stone Mountain, I took a photograph of the park below.