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In: Aarts, J., de Mönnink, I. and Wekker, H. (eds) (1997) Studies in English
Language and Teaching. Rodopi: Amsterdam & Atlanta, pp. 185-198.



Sylviane Granger
Centre for English Corpus Linguistics
Université Catholique de Louvain

1. Non-finite clauses in EFL grammars

In comparison to the detailed treatment which finite clauses receive in EFL

grammars, the description of non-finite clauses appears very perfunctory. Not
only are they insufficiently described, they are also usually scattered across
several sections of the grammar, thus making it very difficult for EFL learners to
form an overall picture of the part they play in discourse. In a form-based
grammar such as Thomson & Martinet (1986), non-finites are dealt with in
sections on participles, infinitives, gerunds, relative pronouns and clauses, etc.,
while in a function-based grammar like Downing & Locke (1992) they are found
in sections as diverse as ‘the development of the message’, ‘expressing intrinsic
features of things’, ‘enhancing the message’, etc. In most cases, non-finites are
presented as free variants of finites, with no mention of any factors favouring
one type over the other. It is not rare to find statements such as the following:
“The non-finite verb forms -ing, -to infinitive and -en participle are used non-
restrictively to express the same meanings as the finite forms” (Downing &
Locke 1992:286). Two notable exceptions are Close (1975) and Johansson &
Lysvag (1986). Close presents all the uses of non-finite clauses in a special
section entitled ‘Condensing the sentence’, together with other
abbreviatory/compacting/synthetic devices, such as verbless clauses, complex
prepositional phrases, ellipsis, pro-forms, etc., while in their excellent two-
volume grammar, Johansson & Lysvag give a very detailed description of these
structures in two chapters, one on non-finite expansion of the sentence and the
other on -ing constructions.

There are two related reasons why non-finite clauses should receive
more prominence in EFL grammars, especially those aimed at advanced
learners. Firstly, non-finites and in particular participle clauses - the topic of this
article - have been found to figure prominently in some registers of English,
notably narrative and academic writing. Beaman (1984:66), for instance, shows
that finite subordinate clauses are more common in spoken narratives and
nonfinite clauses in written narratives. Chafe & Danielewicz (1987:102), on the
other hand, show that high frequency of participles is a distinguishing feature of
academic writing. They compare four registers of English - two spoken and two
written - and conclude that “language other than academic writing makes
considerably less use of participles”. As the improvement of stylistic proficiency
is an important objective at an advanced stage of learning, the stylistic features
of non-finite clauses ought to receive more attention. The second reason for

giving more prominence to non-finite clauses is that they are a major means of
syntactic compression (Greenbaum 1988). The finite adverbial clause in the
sentence As he was of noble extraction, he found it easy to mix with the local
aristocracy can be abbreviated to a nonfinite clause (Being of noble extraction,
he found it easy...) or further compressed into a verbless clause (Of noble
extraction, he found it easy...). A better mastery of non-finites could therefore
help learners to develop a more compact, integrated style.

2. Participle clauses

The category of non-finite clauses clauses, ie clauses whose verb element is

non-finite (Quirk et al, 1985:992), consists of participle clauses and infinitive
clauses. Sentences (1) to (3) illustrate the three major syntactic functions of
participle clauses: nominal in (1), adverbial in (2) and postmodifying (or:
adnominal) in (3).

(1) I enjoyed spending my holidays with them.

(2) As mentioned in section 1, several statistical tests were used..
(3) People working in this field have made considerable progress.

Nominal clauses contain -ing participles functioning as subject, object,

subject complement, etc. Unlike for the other two types, there are no systematic
finite alternatives. In sentence (1), for instance, the -ing participle is triggered by
the verb avoid and has no finite counterpart. This makes nominal clauses less
interesting to investigate from a stylistic point of view and they have therefore
been excluded from the current investigation.

Adverbial -ing and -ed clauses express a variety of semantic

relationships, which can be expressed by means of a subordinator - a
conjunction (ex. 4) or a preposition (ex. 5) - or left implicit (ex. 6-8). They usually
have no subject of their own but when they do, as in sentence (8), they are
referred to as ‘absolute clauses’. Adverbial clauses which are not introduced by
a subordinator are called ‘supplementive clauses’ by Quirk et al (1985:1123).
As their adverbial status is often unclear (see section 6), I have classified them
in a category of their own, reserving the term ‘adverbial’ for subordinator-
headed clauses.

Adnominal participle clauses, which function as postmodifiers to nouns

or pronouns, are usually referred to as ‘reduced relative clauses’ (ex. 9 & 10).
Indeed, they can be viewed as shorter versions of full relative clauses (A report
that was written by my colleague; a taste which resembles that of soapy water).

(4) When returning the merchandise, be sure to bring your receipt.

(5) On becoming a member, you will receive a membership card and a badge.
(6) Returning to my village after thirty years, I met an old schoolteacher.
(7) Stated bluntly, he had no chance of winning.
(8) No further discussion arising, the meeting was brought to a close.
(9) A report written by my colleague appeared last week.
(10) This is a liquid with a taste resembling that of soapy water.

(from Quirk et al 1985)


Adverbial and supplementive clauses bear the danger of ‘dangling’ or

‘unattached’ participles, which are condemned in all grammars and writing
textbooks, for native and non-native speakers alike. According to Greenbaum
(1991:159) “a dangling modifier has no subject of its own, and its implied
subject cannot be identified with the subject of the sentence though it can
usually be identified with some other phrase in the sentence”. To illustrate this
phenomenon, he juxtaposes erroneous sentences and their corrected versions
(cf. ex. 11 & 12).

(11) dangling Being blind, a dog guided her across the street.
corrected Being blind, she was guided across the street by a dog.
(12) dangling After turning the radio off, the interior of the car became silent.
corrected After she (or I, etc.) turned the radio off, the interior of the car became

In this article I investigate the use of participle clauses in the academic

writing of native English students and advanced EFL learners and compare the
results in terms of frequency of occurrence, syntactic pattern and discourse
function. The analysis is based on two 45,000 word corpora extracted from the
ICLE (International Corpus of Learner English) and LOCNESS (Louvain Corpus
of Native English Essays) databases (for more information, see Granger
forthcoming). The non-native (NNS) corpus consists of argumentative essays
written by advanced EFL learners and is subdivided into three 15,000 word
subcorpora - NNSF, NNSS and NNSD - which cover writing by French,
Swedish and Dutch students respectively. The native speaker (NS) corpus
covers similar writing by American English students; for comparison purposes, it
has also been split into three similar-sized chunks - US1, US2 and US3.

3. Overall frequency of occurrence of participle clauses

Table 1 gives the overall frequency of occurrence of participle clauses in the NS

and NNS corpora. It brings out a statistically significant underuse of these
clauses - both -ed and -ing - by EFL learners (p<0.005). Indeed, there are half
as many participle clauses in the learner as in the native speaker corpus. The
two corpora are similar, however, in the distribution of -ing and -ed participles:
two thirds -ing and one third -ed.

Table 1: Overall frequency of occurrence of participle clauses in NS and NNS


Ved 165 (34.5%) 96 (39.5%)
Ving 310 (65.5%) 147 (60.5%)
Total 475 (100%) 243 (100%)
Nr words 45,600 46,211

In order to check the reliability of these figures, it is useful to look at the

frequency of participle clauses in the six subcorpora. The results are given in
Table 2. The figures printed in bold in the table represent statistically significant
differences within the NS and NNS corpus.

Table 2: Overall frequency of occurrence of participle clauses in NS and NNS

corpora: subcorpus breakdown


Ved 75 50 40 40 36 20
Ving 119 96 95 44 53 50
Total 194 146 135 84 89 70
Nr words 15,030 15,666 14,904 15,246 15,810 15,155

The overall underuse brought out by Table 1 is confirmed here: all three
learner varieties prove to underuse participle clauses significantly (p<0.005),
with frequencies ranging from 70 to 84, as opposed to 135 to 194 for the NS
subcorpora. However, while there are no significant frequency differences
among the NNS subcorpora, the NS corpus displays some variability: US1
contains a significantly higher number of participle clauses than the other two
NS subcorpora.

A look at the respective distributions of -ed and -ing shows that the latter
is much more stable across subcorpora than the former: it is consistently lower
in the learner corpus, with frequencies ranging from 44 to 53 (as opposed to 95
to 119 in the NS corpus). The frequency of -ed structures, on the other hand, is
highly variable in both the NS and NNS corpora with two subcorpora standing
out from the others: US1 displays significantly more -ed structures than US2
and US3, while the Dutch learner corpus (NNSD) contains a significantly lower
number of these structures than either the French or Swedish corpora.

There are several possible reasons for this underuse of participle

clauses by the EFL writers may be explained by several factors. First there is
the fact that they receive little attention in EFL grammars and learners will thus
be unsure as to how and when they should use them. In addition, they may
consciously or unconsciously avoid using them because of the spectre of the
dangling participle. If this is true, it is a shame, as learners already have to fight
against a natural tendency to overtextualize, to use more words than is
necessary. Finally, transfer from the mother tongue may also play a part.
According to Kortmann (1995:229) English “stands out among the Germanic
languages with respect to its predilection for the use of adverbial participles”.(1)
And in fact when one attempts to translate the English participle clause types
into the other three languages under investigation, ie French, Swedish and
Dutch, several of the English structures turn out to be either inexistent or much
less frequently used. (2) It is interesting to note that this is especially true of -ing
clauses, which have proved to be the most consistently underused type. It is
therefore possible - indeed likely - that learners underuse some of the participle
structures because they have a more restrictive use in their mother tongue.

However, in the absence of reliable text-based crosslinguistic descriptions of

these structures, one should be careful not to draw hasty interlingual

Overall frequencies of participle clauses may well hide significant

differences in the use of individual clause types. The following sections present
a detailed description of each of the three major syntactic types of participle
clause - adnominal, adverbial and supplementive - in the learner and native
speaker corpora.

4. Adnominal participle clauses

As Table 3 shows, the category of adnominal clauses is the largest category of

participle clauses: it accounts for approximately half the number of occurrences
in the two corpora, with -ed postmodification being the dominant tendency.

Table 3: Frequency of occurrence of adnominal clauses in NS and NNS


Adnominal 226 (47.5%) 127 (52%)
Ved 133 79
Ving 93 48
Total 475 (100%) 243 (100%)

Adnominal clauses are significantly underused by learners, with nearly

twice as many occurrences of both -ed and -ing participles in the NS corpus.
The frequencies of -ed and -ing per 1,000 words are respectively 1.7 and 1.0 in
the learner corpus, as opposed to 2.9 and 2.0 in the native speaker corpus. (3)
The subcorpus breakdown of adnominal clauses reveals that the frequencies
for -ing clauses are consistently low, while the underuse of -ed is mainly due to
a very low frequency in the Dutch learner corpus. The reason accounting for
this underuse does not seem to be transfer-related as past participial relative
clauses exist in Dutch as well as in French and Swedish. The consistent
underuse of -ing clauses, however, may well be partly due to the fact that these
structures are either impossible or comparatively much less frequent in the
learners’ mother tongues.

Sentences (13-20) illustrate how adnominal clauses are used in the NS


(13) Obviously, the behaviour demonstrated by the children in the accounts was not typical for
that child, or really any child for that matter.
(14) Further evidence of this is demonstrated by a 1935 study conducted by Robert Dann.
(15) The thought conveyed in this prayer is shallow in meaning.
(16) All the things presented here could make for an effective argument against continuing
genetic research.
(17) it will be ultimately decided that there should be a ban on gays serving in the military.
(18) no evidence was presented to suggest that reports using notebooks and pencils posed any
security risks.

(19) It could easily become a solution for people suffering from severe depression or those
diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, who want to save themselves from the pain that they will later
(20) The pain experienced by someone dying of cancer is enormous.

It is not my intention to provide a detailed account of the syntactic and

discourse functions of reduced relative clauses at this point, especially in view
of the dearth of information in English grammars. However, the corpus study
shows that these clauses play an important role in academic discourse, both in
rhematic position, where their use is governed by the principles of end-focus
and end-weight (cf. ex. 14, 17 & 19), and thematic position, where their
anaphoric function is brought out by the presence of back-referencing elements
such as definite noun phrases (the children/the accounts in 13), demonstrative
pronouns (this in 14) or text-referring adverbs (here in 16). It is also interesting
to note that there is a high occurrence of agentful clauses in the non-finite
clauses. Approximately 40 % of the past participle clauses contain a by-agent, a
proportion which is markedly higher than that found for finite passive forms,
where it rarely exceeds 20% (see Svartvik 1966).

It has been shown that the EFL writers underuse adnominal clauses. In
fact, there is also a reasonable degree of misuse. In several sentences, such as
(21-25), the choice of a reduced relative clause has been found infelicitous by
the native speaker corrector and replaced by a finite relative clause (4).

(21) Not to mention these ethnical minorities not feeling at home. (correction: who don’t feel at
(22) All the countries making part of that Europe will live hand in hand. (correction: who will
make up Europe)
(23) many Europeans fear that they will be the eyewitnesses of the birth of a nation leaving the
citizens aside. (correction: which will leave)
(24) Many dreams and imaginations of the people living in the early part of the century are now a
reality. (improvement: who lived)
(25) fight starvation and diseases endangering the lives of the natives. (improvement: which

Nonfinite clauses are obviously not free variants of finite clauses. It is often
difficult to say why one is chosen above the other but there seem to be a
number of factors involved such as the need to remove ambiguity, the
informational load of the relative clause, and so on. What is certain is that there
is a need for detailed comparisons of finite and nonfinite clause types.

5. Adverbial participle clauses

Adverbial participle clauses can express a variety of circumstancial

relationships - time, cause, manner, condition, etc. - which are made explicit by
a conjunction or a preposition. They account for approximately one third of the
clauses in the data. As shown by the figures in Table 4, it is the category that is
most significantly underused by learners: there are 2.5 times as many
occurrences of such clauses in the NS as in the NNS corpus (182 occurrences
vs 75). The frequencies of adverbial clauses are extremely stable across the
subsections of each corpus (from 58 to 65 in the NS corpus and from 21 to 28
in the NNS corpus). This holds for both conjunction- and preposition-headed

Table 4: Frequency of occurrence of adverbial clauses in NS and NNS corpora

Adverbial 182 (38.5%) 75 (31%)
Conj+ 39 18
Ved 17 3
Ving 22 15
Prep+ 143 57
Total 475 (100%) 243 (100%)

5.1. Conjunction-headed clauses

Only a minority of adverbial clauses (c. 25%) are introduced by a

conjunction. Table 4 shows that it is mainly the -ed conjunction-headed clauses
(see ex.26-31) that are underused by learners.

(26) do students better understand scientific principles when taught from a two-model approach
of origins (...) or a one-model approach?
(27) There are rules to follow when carrying out affirmative action policies which can be
unconstitutional if ignored.
(28) As shown previously, racism on campus is a serious issue.
(29) As stated above, when he returned the following year to reapply, he wrote down the two
drugs on his application.
(30) As stated in Time, “<quote>“.
(31) When used in business, ethics involves the relationship of what is right (...).

The three conjunctions that serve to introduce past participial adverbial clauses
in the corpus are as (8 occurrences), when (7) and if (2) in the corpus. In the
majority of cases, the -ed clauses are initial and have a connective function, as
in examples 28 & 29, or a frame-setting function (Kortmann 1995:228), as in
examples 30 and 31.

Present participle adverbial clauses are introduced by when, while and

whether...or. The most frequently used conjunction is when (16 occurrences in
NS and 9 in NNS). Like -ed clauses, -ing clauses are found in thematic (ex. 32)
and rhematic position (ex. 33), but rhematic position is more common. Using
Chafe’s (1984) terminology, we could say that -ed clauses tend to have a
‘guidepost’ function, while -ing clauses function more as some kind of
‘afterthought’. It is interesting to note that whereas the learners often use the
‘afterthought’ function, they rarely use the ‘guidepost’ one.

(32) When dealing with the history of genetic research, one should bring up eugenics, which is
the study and methods of improving the species genetically.
(33) This drug is used to help revive heart attack victims while simultaneously preventing brain
damage from occurring.

5.2. Preposition-headed clauses

With reference to “non-finite clauses governed by a preposition”

Huddleston (1971:200) notes that “this area of grammar has not been subjected

to very detailed study”. Yet this type of clause is not a minor category: it
accounts for over 75% of all adverbial clauses in our corpus. The main
prepositions which function as subordinators - called ‘connective prepositions’
by Halliday (1985) - are the following ones: by, in , (up)on, besides, with,
without, instead of, rather than, after, before and since. (5) The most frequent
one is undoubtedly by, which alone accounts for 64% of preposition-headed
adverbial clauses in the NS corpus (91 occurrences vs only 21 in the learner
corpus). The majority of by-clauses are rhematic (see ex.34 & 35), but over a
quarter are sentence- or clause-initial and have a clear frame-setting or linking
function (ex. 36-38). (6) Some prepositions, such as in (ex. 39), with (ex. 40) or
after (ex. 41), which occur very infrequently in the learner corpus, are
predominantly found in initial position.

(34) the battle for improvement of race relationships was both won and lost by implementing this
(35) Kerkovian is performing acts of mercy by relieving patients of their agonizing pain.
(36) By using this example, the opponents have presented a strong point as to why (...).
(37) By using drugs, athletes are making the competition unfair.
(38) By arguing that affirmative action hasn’t worked, opponents of the argument are really
defending the need for such programs.
(39) In discussing these definitions, I will concentrate on affirmative action for blacks.
(40) With everyone avoiding teenagers and their need to know about sexual relations, it is only
logical that schools begin teaching our children sex education.
(41) After reading through many sources on new age ideas and the teaching of those ideas, I
have discovered that (...).

Both the native and learner corpora contain erroneous or infelicitous

instances of adverbial clauses. (7) The learner errors are of two types:
sentences such as (42) where a finite form would have been more appropriate
but the reference of the participle is clear, and cases of ‘dangling participles’,
illustrated in (43), where the reference is ambiguous.. The native speaker errors
are exclusively of the latter type (see ex. 44 & 45).

(42) They are carried away emotionally while watching them. (NNSD) (Correction: as they watch
(43) By considering the problem, a borrower’s mindset has begun to take form. (NNSS)
(Correction: because people are considering the problem)
(44) Therefore, by distributing them in our high schools, students will be better able to protect
themselves and their partners. (NS) (Correction: if they are distributed)
(45) Without teaching teens sexual ethics, they will inevitably go with the flow. (NS) (Correction:
if teachers are not taught)

6. Supplementive participle clauses

Quirk et al (1985:1123) use the term ‘supplementive clause’ to refer to adverbial

participle clauses and adverbial verbless clauses which are not introduced by a
subordinator. These clauses are characterized by “considerable indeterminacy
as to the semantic relationship to be inferred. (...) In their indeterminacy,
adverbial participle and verbless clauses resemble the versatile relationships
expressed by nonrestrictive relative clauses and the connective function of the
coordinator and”. According to the authors, “their most typical positions in the
superordinate clause are initial, final, and immediately after their antecedent” (p.

The category of supplementive clauses is the smallest category in the

corpora, accounting for c. 15% of the total number of participle clauses (Table
5). The difference in frequency between the native and the non-native writers is
significant, though less marked (p<0.01) than in the preceding two clause types.
In fact, the learner underuse results exclusively from a significant underuse of
-ing participles, -ed participles being used with similar frequencies by all groups.
In the following lines I will therefore focus on -ing clauses, not only because they
are underused by learners but also because they account for over three
quarters of the supplementive clauses. In this connection, it is interesting to
note that -ing supplementive clauses are much more frequent than conjunction-
headed -ing clauses (52 occurrences vs 22).

Table 5: Frequency of occurrence of supplementive clauses in NS and NNS


Supplementive 67 (14%) 41 (17%)
Ved 15 14
Ving 52 27
Total 475 (100%) 243 (100%)

Though some -ing clauses display a ‘guidepost’ function in the corpus

(see ex. 46 & 47), the overwhelming majority (80%) are found in final position,
usually preceded by a comma. While their adverbial status is sometimes clear, -
resultative in (48), for instance - the link with the main clause is usually very
loose and corresponds more closely to a mere coordination or apposition.
Sentences (49-52) are clear illustrations of this phenomenon. In the last two
sentences, the participle clauses elaborate on some element of the main
clause: experience their college years in this way in (51) and substantially lower
in (52). The function of most of these clauses is merely to indicate that one
clause - the nonfinite one - is subordinate to another - the superordinate clause.
It is therefore a very flexible way of structuring information and learners would
benefit from increased mastery of this technique.

(46) Looking through the years of history, it is hard to imagine a time when religion did not exist.
(47) Knowing this, one can rightly assert that to abort this fetus is to kill a living human being.
(48) Sam Walton (...) treated his employees and customers with respect, thus building
friendships and becoming successful.
(49) Many of the orphanages did in fact provide a wellbalanced lifestyle for their orphans, even
preparing them for the future.
(50) They study the relation between genotypes and phenotypes, attempting to determine the
generic basis (...).
(51) it is important for the black student to experience their college years in this way, associating
with those of the same background and maintaining a symbol of a great national heritage.
(52) In Canada (...) prices of drugs by Canadian subsidiaries of American companies are
substantially lower, averaging 32%.

Though -ing participles in final position need not always be preceded by

a comma, many of the infelicitous instances in the native and learner corpus are
due to the absence of a comma (see ex. 53 & 54).

(53) these televangelists (...) are even able to wheedle a lot of money from their followers
offering them all sorts of gadgets and persuading them to give them money. (NNSD) (Correction:
their followers, offering them)

(54) Prolife advocates have lined up in front of abortion clinics not allowing patients to enter and
doctors to exit. (NS) (Correction: clinics, not allowing)

7. Conclusion

This corpus analysis has shown that there is a significant lack of participle
clauses in the academic writing of advanced EFL learners. This underuse -
coupled with an equally significant shortage of passives (see Granger 1996) -
contributes to the stylistic deficiency of learner essays. In Biber’s (1988)
multidimensional model, past participles and passives figure prominently in the
dimension that distinguishes between abstract/impersonal and non-abstract
types of discourse (Dimension 5).

To remedy this situation, EFL/ESL grammars and writing textbooks

should highlight the role played by participle clauses both as a means of
syntactic compression and as a discourse structuring device.

According to Kameen (1983:166), use of participle clauses as a means

of syntactic compression is one manifestation of the “syntactic maturity” which
differentiates good and poor writers. He suggests that learners of English would
benefit from exercises in sentence combining: “with sentence-combining
exercises - exercises which present the students with numerous short
sentences directing them to combine them into longer, more economical units -
we can give students practice in writing longer clauses and T-units, particularly
by showing them how to reduce full clauses to prepositional, infinitival, and
participial phrases”. Participle clauses should be studied alongside other
synthetic devices such as verbless clauses (see ex. 55 & 56) and postmodifying
prepositional phrases (see ex. 57), which are also frequently used in academic

(55) Coal miners can contract lung cancer, they can be flooded when in the mines.
(56) With the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases on the rise, teenagers must be
aware of the health dangers (...).
(57) While it is not necessary to completely cut all forms of economic benefits to families or
single parents in need,....

However, learners should take care not to go to the other extreme.

Greenbaum (1988:9) is right to point out that “Excessive brevity results in
obscurity. Economy of utterance has to be balanced against the time and effort
that listeners or readers are prepared to spend in decoding the message. If the
message is too compressed, we may gain time -but we may also lose our
audience”. The numerous infelicitous instances present in our corpus - notably
in the native speaker part - show that Greenbaum’s warning is particularly
relevant with respect to participle clauses.

As regards the discourse function of participle clauses, our investigation

has shown that -ed and -ing clauses play an important role in the foregrounding
and backgrounding of information. In this field, there is scope for in-depth
research into the relationship between particular sentence positions - especially
initial and final - and particular discourse functions. This analysis should clearly
distinguish between present and past participles, which each seem to have their
own preferred patterns of use. As the frequency of types of participle clauses

clearly varies across registers and genres, research should also take this into

Finally, there is also need for a much more thorough analysis of the
factors conditioning the choice between finite and nonfinite clauses, an area
which, as stated by Johansson & Lysvag (1986 Part 2:296), “is regulated by a
complex interplay of syntactic, semantic, and stylistic factors“. A challenge to
keep English grammarians busy for some time to come. (Ready to take it up,


1. For instance, a comparison of the text frequency of adverbial participle

clauses in English and German narrative texts reveals that “English employs
five times as many of these constructions per 10,000 words as German does”
(Kortmann 1995:192).

2. I am very grateful to Ludo Beheydt and Bengt Altenberg for discussing the
complexities of participle clauses in Dutch and Swedish.

3. A comparison with the frequencies in Biber (1988) shows that the proportions
of adnominal -ed and -ing participle clauses in the NS corpus are identical to
those displayed by ‘press editorials’ (2.9 and 2.0), but much lower than those of
‘academic prose’ (respectively 5.6 and 2.5). This difference can be explained by
the heterogeneity of academic prose: “in the LOB corpus, academic prose is
divided into seven sub-categories: natural science, medical, mathematics,
social science, politics/education, humanities, and technology/engineering. Due
to the differences among these sub-genres, the dimension scores for academic
prose have quite large ranges” (Biber 1988:171). The frequency rates of
features such as participial WHIZ deletions (Biber’s term for adnominal
participle clauses) and passives increase with the level of technicality of texts.
The difference in frequency between Biber’s corpus of academic writing and
ours is to be related to the fact that his corpus contains a large proportion of
technical texts, while ours consists exclusively of non-technical argumentative

4. I am very grateful to Stephanie Petch-Tyson, who kindly agreed to scan

through my corpus to detect cases of misused participle clauses.

5. I have classified after, before and since as prepositions rather than

conjunctions because, as stated by Quirk et al (1985:1005) they “differ from
subordinators such as when or while in that they are followed by -ing clauses
but not by -ed clauses or verbless clauses”.

6. In final position by-clauses are often ambiguous between sentence adjuncts

and optional predication adjuncts (see Quirk et al 1985: 510-514).

7. The error rate of adverbial clause is c. 10% in each corpus. This should not
be taken as a hard-and-fast figure, however, as the concept of ‘dangling
participle’ is very subjective. Grammarians differ in the type of controller they
allow. Some are very strict and require identity of reference with the subject of

the matrix clause (see Thomson & Martinet 1986:244), others are more flexible
and accept a whole range of controllers (see Quirk et al 1985:1121-1123).


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Biber, Doug. 1988. Variation across Speech and Writing. Cambridge University
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