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Author Topic: Reducing adverb clauses for brevity  (Read 157 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: August 14, 2017, 12:31:36 PM »

We saw in the last Friday’s column (“Reducing adjective clauses for conciseness,” August 11, 2017) how we can streamline sentences by reducing their adjective clauses to adjective phrases—a very simple process that does away with the relative pronouns “that,” “which,” “who,” “whom,” “whose,” and “where” as well as the passive verbs that work with them. With this sentence compacting process, for instance, a sentence like “His temper is one that stems from a deprived childhood” can drop the linking phrase “is one that” to become “His temper stems from a deprived childhood,” yet retain the original meaning. Native English-language writers and speakers do this sort of sentence compacting all the time to express themselves more fluidly and more idiomatically.


A similar reduction can actually be done with adverb clauses, those extended modifiers of verbs and verb phrases that give us the details and circumstances of the action done by them, particularly in terms of time and duration. We will recall that both in structure and in function, adverb clauses are more complex than adverb phrases. Adverb clauses come complete with a subject and a verb, as in this sentence: “While we were sleeping, somebody quietly slipped into our bedroom” (the formal subject of the adverb clause is the noun “we” and the formal verb form is “were sleeping”). Adverb phrases, on the other hand, only have either a subject or a verb or even neither, as in this sentence: “While dancing the rhumba, we tripped and fell.” (the adverb phrase states the action but has no actor). We can thus see that to reduce an adverb clause, we simply knock off its formal subject to make it an adverb phrase with essentially the same meaning.


With the grammar elements involved in adverb-clause reduction already clearly defined, we will now proceed to its specifics:
 
(1) Reduction of adverb clauses in sentences involving same-time actions. When an adverb clause uses the conjunctions “while” or “when,” it can be reduced by dropping both the subject and the form of “be” that goes with it. Take this sentence, for instance: “While we were touring Europe, we chanced upon a mutual friend in Vienna.” It reduces to “While [we were] touring Europe, we chanced upon a mutual friend in Vienna” Similarly, “When she is in the neighborhood, she always asks around for me” reduces to “When [she is] in the neighborhood, she always asks around for me.”
 
Be aware though that this reduction cannot be done when the subjects of the subordinate clause and the main clause are not one and the same. Take our very first example: “While we were sleeping, somebody quietly slipped into pour bedroom.” The statement becomes absurd when we try to reduce its adverb clause: “While [we were] sleeping, somebody quietly slipped into our bedroom.” The legitimate sleepers are gone, and in their place a “sleeping somebody” does the act of slipping into the bedroom!

(2) Reduction of “when” and “while” adverb clauses that do not use the verb “be.” When the adverb clause uses an active verb instead of the passive “be,” reduction can be done by changing the active verb in the clause to its –ing form. In some cases, “when” and “while” can be dropped as well. For instance, “When I drove that car, I heard strange sounds under the hood” reduces to “When driving that car, I heard strange sounds under the hood” (or to “Driving that car, I heard strange sounds under the hood”). “While she took her vacation, she lost her job to an upstart” reduces to “While taking her vacation, she lost her job to an upstart” (or to “Taking her vacation, she lost her job to an upstart”).

(3) Reduction of adverb clauses in sentences involving different-time actions. We can similarly reduce sentences with adverb clauses that use “before” and “after.” For instance, “Before we took off from Manila, we made sure that the executive jet had enough fuel to reach Sydney” reduces to “Before taking off from Manila, we made sure that the executive jet had enough fuel to reach Sydney.” The sentence “After he let out a bloodcurdling yell, the candidate balled his fist” reduces to “After letting out a bloodcurdling yell, the candidate balled his fist.” This time, however, unlike in adverb clauses that use “when” and “while,” we cannot drop “before” and “after” in the reduced sentences. Doing so would eliminate the different-time character of the two actions altogether.




There’s one crucial thing we have to keep in mind when reducing adverb clauses: beware of accidentally fudging time clauses found at the end of sentences. Consider one such sentence: “They discovered the rarest of deer species while they were picnicking in the rainforest.” For sure we can reduce it to “They discovered the rarest of deer species while picnicking in the rainforest,” but not—heaven forbid—to “They discovered the rarest of deer species picnicking in the rainforest.” That would be a most spurious claim indeed, and we can be sure nobody will believe us! (2004)

This essay, 336th in the series, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the February 19, 2004 issue of The Manila Times, © 2004 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
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