Reading a book, he was listening to the radio vs. He was listening to the radio, reading a book

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Kawagucchan

Member
Japanese
Hi! It's my fist post!
I wanted you to judge and discuss the acceptability of sentences including "free adjuncts."

①Reading a book, he was listening to the radio.
②He was listening to the radio, reading a book.

① and ② seem to describe the same situation: his reading took place through the whole time of his listening.
I wanted to know if there was some difference between them. As a test, I would like to introduce a context below.

①’ Reading a book, he was watching TV. {✔And then breaking news comes up/ ??And then he finds an interesting line in the book}.
②' He was listening to the radio, reading a book. {✔And then breaking news comes up/ ✔And then he finds an interesting line in the book}.

I think that in ①, the most important information is "he was watching TV": “reading books” is just a background.
On the other hand, in ②, the two events seem to have almost the same value.

What do you think?
 
  • DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I think (1) sounds a bit odd, and (2) works better for me as "He was listening to the radio, while reading a book".

    Other than that, both sentences come across to me as simply describing two things that 'he' was doing at the same time.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    While they're both grammatical, neither seems particularly natural. Using the same word order, we'd be more likely to describe simultaneous activity like this:

    (1a) While reading a book, he was listening to the radio.
    (2a) He was listening to the radio, and reading a book.

    That said, I think you're right about foreground and background, but it is not perhaps a strong effect. We'd need a more realistic context.

    In these sentences the two actions are unrelated. The original structure would be more likely used where there was some connexion, such as:

    (3) Reading a book, he was struck by an interesting line in it.
    (4) He was listening to the radio, tapping his feet to the music.
     

    Ashraful Haque

    Senior Member
    Bengali
    I think (1) sounds a bit odd, and (2) works better for me as "He was listening to the radio, while reading a book".

    Other than that, both sentences come across to me as simply describing two things that 'he' was doing at the same time.
    I think people do leave out 'while' in this kind of sentence. Can't we say it without the 'while?'
     

    Kawagucchan

    Member
    Japanese
    I agree. Conjunctions are added to make the sentences clear-cut.
    I have seen though, while, when, if+ing several times.
     

    Ashraful Haque

    Senior Member
    Bengali
    Adding “while” suggests that the main point of the sentence is to say that the two things happened at the same time. Without context, if you omit “while” it is not clear what the main point of the sentence is.
    This is confusing. Another native speaker told me that it's natural to say:
    - "I was drinking coffee sitting down."
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Exactly. If someone said 'I was drinking coffee while I was sitting down' my immediate reaction would be to ask if they managed it without getting coffee all over themself. 😂

    'To drink coffee sitting down' suggests that you are already seated and are drinking coffee. The same would go for standing up.
     

    Ashraful Haque

    Senior Member
    Bengali
    Exactly. If someone said 'I was drinking coffee while I was sitting down' my immediate reaction would be to ask if they managed it without getting coffee all over themself. 😂

    'To drink coffee sitting down' suggests that you are already seated and are drinking coffee. The same would go for standing up.
    I think I get it. So 'drinking coffee sitting down' would suggest that I was already in my chair while having my coffee and 'drinking coffee while sitting down' would mean that I was doing two things simultaneously which are 'sitting down' (in the process of sitting down) and 'drinking coffee.'

    Do I understand it?
     

    Kawagucchan

    Member
    Japanese
    ”I was drinking coffee sitting down" seems different from "I was drinking coffee, siting down," though both denotes the same
    situation: I was drinking coffee in the sate of sitting down. It's just my sensation.
    "I was drinking coffee sitting down" seems similar to "I sat drinking coffee."
     

    Ashraful Haque

    Senior Member
    Bengali
    I might well add a comma after 'coffee' when I write it, but when I say it I say it 'without' the comma.:):

    "I was drinking coffee, watching TV."

    And yes, the meaning is the same.
    Thanks for the answer. Yesterday I was play a video game with a friend and two more of our friends joined us. Since we were already in the middle of a match, I said:
    "You guys start a match while we finish this."

    According to this post since we use while when doing two things simultaneously, have I used 'while' correctly here?
     

    Kawagucchan

    Member
    Japanese
    I think that in a negative sentence, there might be a difference between with and without comma, that is, whether or not
    the sentence after the comma is included within the scope of "not."
     

    Kawagucchan

    Member
    Japanese
    That I was NOT listening to music, reading a book is not same as I was NOT listening to music reading a book.
    "Not" in the former only negates the main clause, but the one in the latter negates the whole sentence. It is just my feeling
     
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