Complex sentences

Adding more detail

Showing the timing of related events

Whenever we're describing action, particularly complex, layered actions, we need to pay attention to timing—and that includes paying attention to verb tense.

In the two snippets below:

  • What is the tense of the main event?
  • What are the tenses of any supporting events?
  • Do you see any patterns?

Dickon came in smiling his nicest wide smile.

The Secret GardenFrances Hodgson BurnettSource

Astrid was still calm, though, frowning, concentrating, trying to make sense of it all.

GoneMichael GrantSource
What can we see?

Continuous/ongoing action

These snippets are examples of how we can use embedded clauses (supporting events) to show one action happening at the same time as another.

This is similar to using the connector 'while':

  • Dickon came in while smiling his widest smile.

Except the -ing verb form already tells us the action is simultaneous and ongoing, so we can drop the 'while':

  • Dickon came in smiling his widest smile.

This is especially handy when we want to describe many continuous actions in the same sentence:

Your turn

What if we want to express other kinds of timing?

We can change tenses!

For example, compare the timing of the smile in these two snippets:

Dickon came in smiling his nicest wide smile.

The Secret GardenFrances Hodgson BurnettSource

Dickon came in having smiled his nicest wide smile.

In the second example, we’ve introduced a tense helper and changed the form of the verb to an ‘-ed’ form to show the smiling action is completed.

(For more detail about continuous vs completed action (and continuous-completed action), check out this page in the Verb Groups lesson.)

Your turn

Do we always use -ing verbs to show continuous or ongoing events?

95% of the time, an -ing verb is all you need to show continuous or ongoing events.

It gets slightly more complicated when we start messing around with passive voice, which we will get to on the next page!

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