why not "swimming goldfish" instead of "goldfish swimming"?

qandq

Member
Korean
He went to the wall where the little girl had had been forced to stand, and there he painted pictures a kitten chasing its tail, lambs in a field, and goldfish swimming.

If I put, "swimming goldfish" instead of "goldfish swimming", does the meaning slightly change? I guess, in both cases, they are used as modifying the noun goldfish. What's the difference?
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    If I put, "swimming goldfish" instead of "goldfish swimming", does the meaning slightly change?
    No. But the sound of the sentence changes a little for the worse. This sort of thing really reflects taste rather than correctness or meaning, qandq.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    The summary sounds good, Pertinax, but I'd be hard-pressed to distinguish between a photograph of a swimming goldfish and one of a goldfish swimming, wouldn't you?
     
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    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    I think it's more a matter of how you choose to describe the photo: "a swimming goldfish" draws attention to the fish; "a goldfish swimming" draws attention to the activity.

    The distinction is more pronounced if the activity is more unusual - e.g. jumping out of the water rather than just swimming. A "jumping goldfish" might be a particularly agile specimen trained in aquatic acrobatics, while a "goldfish jumping" might be a demonstration of how to relieve the tedium of swimming back and forth all day.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    He went to the wall where the little girl had had been forced to stand, and there he painted pictures a kitten chasing its tail, lambs in a field, and goldfish swimming.

    If I put, "swimming goldfish" instead of "goldfish swimming", does the meaning slightly change? I guess, in both cases, they are used as modifying the noun goldfish. What's the difference?
    "Goldfish swimming" is parallel to "kitten chasing its tail" and "lambs in a field". It is better form and helps the sentence to flow better.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Right, the parallelism involves three reduced relative clauses. The sentence with full relative clauses:

    and there he painted pictures of a kitten who was chasing is tail, lambs who were in a filed, and goldfish who were swimming.

    The relative clauses are then reduced by eliminating the relative pronoun and the "be" verb, leaving the meaningful element in place.

    "Parallelism" is style, not grammar. So, yes, nothing in grammar prevents putting "swimming" before the noun, where the untensed participle that appears in "goldfish who were swimming" now functions as an adjective ("swimming goldfish"). Stylistically, though, "swimming goldfish" breaks the rhythm established by parallelism.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    An adjective in front of the noun often tells us the type/kind of something. All goldfish are "swimming goldfish" (as long as they're alive ;)) so that doesn't sound as interesting as a "goldfish (that is) swimming" and active right now.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    An adjective in front of the noun often tells us the type/kind of something. All goldfish are "swimming goldfish" (as long as they're alive ;)) so that doesn't sound as interesting as a "goldfish (that is) swimming" and active right now.
    "Swimming" in front of a noun has lots of meanings that don't fit this context, including:

    "still swimming" (= "alive and kicking", so to speak)
    "able to swim"
    "able to be swum" (really strange, but possible)
    "for swimming in" (e.g. "swimming pool")
    "to wear when swimming" (e.g. "swimming suit")

    In our sentence, "swimming" still modifies "goldfish", so it is not a gerund. It means "that swims/swam/has swum/is swimming/has been swimming/etc." (and after the noun cannot mean those other things), and it is an adjunct, not a complement. It has no tense or aspect. I was taught to call it a participle, but "nonfinite reduced relative clause" makes sense too.
     
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