Retiring from a firm of architects, Mr. Willianms bought a cottage

Mohamoka

Senior Member
Chinese
I came across a sentence in Junior New Concept English 5A, L22, written by L.G. Alexander

Retiring from a firm of architects, Mr. Willianms bought a small cottage in a pretty seaside village.

I was wondering how to correctly interpret the participle phrase 'retiring' here. I personally take is as
1. It happened during the process of his retirement, which means in a near future he would be formally retired.
2. He had just retired and then bought a cottage, indicating a time sequence.
3. The participle gives us a sense of cause for his action of buying a cottage, and the fact was that he had retired.

To be honest, I am quite confused and want to know which one above might be correct.
 
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  • Mohamoka

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Considering we normally would use 'after retiring' or 'having retired' in such a situation, I remain every right to be suspicious of what Oswinw011 and S1m0n have confirmed, though I am very grateful for their help.
     

    Wordy McWordface

    Senior Member
    English - SSBE Standard British
    Considering we normally would use 'after retiring' or 'having retired' in such a situation, I remain every right to be suspicious of what Oswinw011 and S1m0n have confirmed, though I am very grateful for their help.
    I agree with you. 'After retiring' or 'Having retired' would be far more natural. Or if you wanted to emphasise that the two events are simultaneous, you could say 'On his retirement...', for example.

    I think it's a very poor example of this construction. Not one of Mr Alexander's best efforts.

    NB It should be Mr Williams. No 'n'.
     

    Szkot

    Senior Member
    British English
    May I take 'as he retired' to mean 'before the official day of his retirement' in terms of time?
    I think you are expecting too much precision in language. Retiring can be seen as a process over a period of time or as an event on a particular day.

    Looking at your three suggestions, all seem to be possible, but none can be said to be correct.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    If I came across the sentence it would not make me to a double take even if it is probably not something I would write. The nearest meaning is 2, but the suggestion of there being a sequence is not strong. The stronger suggestion is that there is connection between Mr Williams retiring and his buying a cottage, i.e. he would not have bought the cottage if he had not been retiring.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    It is definitely not something I would write. It is common to describe the (background) situation before describing an action, and this is often done using a participle phrase at the beginning of a sentence. However, the whole purpose of describing the situation in this way is to make everything clear, which "retiring" does not. We like to know the sequence of events even when it does not really matter.

    It is so easy to make the situation clear that not doing so looks to me to be particularly careless. Any of the following would be better:
    When he retired from a firm of architects...​
    Having retired from a firm of architects...​
    Shortly before he retired from a firm of architects...​
     

    Szkot

    Senior Member
    British English
    However, the whole purpose of describing the situation in this way is to make everything clear, which "retiring" does not. We like to know the sequence of events even when it does not really matter.
    But there does not always have to be clarity. Imagine these words are from an obituary in the firm's in-house magazine - who would care about the sequence? He retired, he bought a cottage - the two events are connected, that's all.
     

    Mohamoka

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    The nearest meaning is 2
    As I read on, I find something more. The writer does have an intention for students to understand the time sequence, as in the exercise section the first question is 'When did Mr. Williams buy his cottage?', and the given answer is 'When he retired'. If I am not mistaken, 'when' here should mean 'short after'.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    It's not a very good question as has been stated above. Retiring is not a brief, sudden event like being fired. Many people plan for their retirement for many months or even years. We cannot assume from that sentence whether he bought the cottage before or after his last day of work. It only says that the two events are related.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    If I am not mistaken, 'when' here should mean 'short after'.
    You cannot tell. On the face if it, the original sentence suggests that he bought the cottage during the process of his retirement. This seems unlikely, so we imagine it to be a little before or a little afterwards. "When" just says at the same time (and can be moderately flexible, so it fits the original sentence); the "shortly afterwards" meaning of "when" is generally only used with the present perfect, indicating completion ("when he had retired", in this case).
     
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