When the athlete made a pair of aluminium crutches, she broke her leg.

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Northfield

Member
Japanese-Japan
Hello.
I asked questions on when sentences in these thread.
http://forum.wordreference.com/thre...ches-he-broke-his-legs.310434156971126/#post-
When they built the new bridge, a Chinese architect drew up the plans. | WordReference Forums

I learned that when-clause events precede main clause events, even in cases like (a), in which the main clause event seemingly precedes the when-clause event.

(a) When they built the new bridge, a Chinese architect drew up the plans.

I think that if an event in a when-clause can't have its preparatory process, unlike building a bridge, then the interpretation as in (a) is not available.
Therefore, I think (b) is infelicitous because breaking a leg don't have preparatory process, unless it is deliberate action.
Is my assumption correct? And comparing (b) with (c), are there any difference of degree of felicitousness?

(b) When the athlete made a pair of aluminium crutches, he broke his leg. (the athlete=he)
(c) When John made a pair of crutches, he broke his leg. (John=he)

Thank you in advance.
 
  • london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I don't know what you mean by degree of felicitousness, but your sentences b) and c) are obviously a comment on the little ironies life reserves for us: he makes a pair of crutches and guess what? Oh, the irony of it, he breaks a leg.

    a) makes no sense. It is obvious that an architect has to draw up plans before anything can be built. It should therefore read:

    When they built the new bridge, the architect had drawn up the plans (12 months beforehand)

    or similar.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Northfield:

    I don't want to be insulting, but it seems to me that you're getting so wrapped up in theoretical linguistics (completely incomprehensible to the bulk of native English speakers) that you have lost sight of reality.

    I still don't get a clear idea of what you are trying to say, since b. and c. are grammatically correct, but totally illogical. Are you trying to be illogical to convey some sort of irony?

    What you have said is "John made a pair of crutches and then he broke his leg." Is this really what you are trying to say?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    I don't think Northfield is trying to be illogical, but really thinks (mistakenly), that you can say (b) and (c) when the crutches were made after breaking the leg.
    If you correct drew and broke to had drawn and had broken, then all of (a), (b), and (c) sort of work, but they are still unnatural enough to confuse native listeners.
    We nearly always expect, when we hear "When x, y" for x to have happened before or at the same time as y, and sometimes we even expect a causal relationship, with y being a consequence of x.
    "When storm Desmond struck, there was severe flooding in the Scottish borders". :tick:
    "When there was severe flooding in the Scottish borders, storm Desmond (had) struck". :confused:

    You can almost get away with (a) (once the obvious correction is made) but only if reminiscing from long enough after the construction that you can consider "built" to include the design phase.
    As for (b) and (c) (which are basically the same) they really don't work, because we really don't expect a reverse causal relationship.
     

    Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    a) makes no sense. It is obvious that an architect has to draw up plans before anything can be built. It should therefore read:

    When they built the new bridge, the architect had drawn up the plans (12 months beforehand)
    I can't agree. I think the the most natural reading of "when they built the bridge" encompasses the entire process; there is no reason at all that it has to refer to the particular phase when the men were actively constructing the bridge. I think sentence A is natural, and B and C are nonsense unless they are supposed to mean that he made the crutches first and then broke his leg.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    I agree with Glenfarclas that "building" can include the design phase. I still find it difficult to describe A as "natural", unless (and I've only just thought of this; this wasn't in my mind when I wrote #4) there is an emphasis on "new", contrasting it to an "old" bridge.
    The speaker might be making a point of saying the new one was designed by Chinese engineers (bridges are not designed by architects) whereas the old one had been designed by the British firm responsible for the embarrassment that the Forth Road Bridge has become. :(
     

    Worcestershire

    Senior Member
    I can't agree. I think the the most natural reading of "when they built the bridge" encompasses the entire process; there is no reason at all that it has to refer to the particular phase when the men were actively constructing the bridge. I think sentence A is natural, and B and C are nonsense unless they are supposed to mean that he made the crutches first and then broke his leg.
    If "built" was intended to encompass the design phase of the construction process, shouldn't it read "When they were building the new bridge, ...."

    The word "built", used alone in the sentence, denotes, to me, a phase that had past.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Good point,Worc, but somehow the use of were building (and even was being built) feels like (subjective, I know) it should refer to a continuous and coherent ongoing activity, and would be more likely to be understood to refer to the construction phase only. That feeling is less strong with was built, allowing (but clearly not forcing) it to be understood to extend to including the design phase.
     
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