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Consider these two sentences:

[1] Being pressed against the wall, he struggled to break free.

[2] Pressed against the wall, he struggled to break free.

I've recently spent some time reading grammar resources relating to participle clauses. To cut a long story short, the conclusion is this: participial-gerund clauses (or present participle clauses) are always simultaneous with the main clause (unless introduced by the perfect 'having'), and past participle clauses can be either simultaneous or non-simultaneous (stative and habitual past participles are almost always simultaneous, while your ordinary dynamic ones are generally non-simultaneous).

With this information, I'd like to know which of the participles is preferred in the above examples—in your personal opinion, of course. Example 1 is indisputably simultaneous, but Example 2 can have past or simultaneous interpretations (i.e., 'He had been pressed against the wall' or 'He was pressed against the wall'). The effect may be the same, but I'm curious what others think.

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4 Answers 4

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In this case, 'pressed against the wall' is more concise and direct. 'Being pressed against the wall', however, has a more nuanced tone and suggests a more continuous state of being pressed against the wall. It's really up to what tone you want. If you want an immediate and straightforward expression, go with the first one. If you want to emphasize the ongoing action of being pressed, the latter is better.

Personally, I like the first one better, as it delivers the action more succinctly. But again, it totally depends on the use of the expression and the atmosphere you want to create in your piece.

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  • I like this answer. I'm not going to go into the boring grammar side of things any more than I already have, but Example 2 has two possible interpretations (being inherently perfective), so I think you're gravitating toward Example 1 because it reinforces the simultaneity of the pressing and struggling. In Example 2, it's valid to interpret the pressing as having happened prior to the struggling, though logic suggests that the subject is still restrained after this.
    – MJ Ada
    Dec 2, 2023 at 19:46
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    @MJAda - Note that the Example order is switched between your question and this answer - koala addresses "pressed against" first and "being pressed" second. Thus "I like the first one better" is an endorsement of "pressed against." -- this is supported by the rest of the sentence "as it delivers the action more succinctly" since "pressed against" is indeed more succinct.
    – codeMonkey
    Dec 5, 2023 at 17:23
  • Thanks, codeMonkey. I definitely got my examples mixed up, so that's much appreciated. This answer aligns with the general idea of conciseness throughout the other answers, then.
    – MJ Ada
    Dec 6, 2023 at 8:55
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While "Being pressed" is grammatically correct, I would never use it over the other option. The use of "Being" is awkward and adds just nothing to the sentence. In fact, it gets in the way.

Unfortunately, I don't have any examples from literature, because wordiness like example one is mostly cut.

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  • I find it interesting to see the contrast in opinion between your preference and that of another answer that leans toward Example 1. Do you have any examples to add that would illustrate your preference? I also would likely choose Example 2.
    – MJ Ada
    Dec 4, 2023 at 12:57
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    I do not have any examples from literature, because usually things like example 1 are cut. Usually, as a rule, you want to cut unnecessary words from your writing. But it depends on context. Is the character now pressed against the wall and is continued to be pressed? Then use example 2. If the character's pressed against the wall and breaks out, I wouldn't use being pressed. The action is easier conveyed to the wall with a different sentence. Example 1. in the second scenario is a clear example of telling not showing Dec 4, 2023 at 20:08
  • That's a fair point. Would you like to add the point about cutting unnecessary words to your answer? I think that's a fair reason to not include examples, so it helps meet the criteria of the question (albeit indirectly). Also, a quick question: when you say 'Then use example 2,' did you mean example 1? That seemed to be the direction you were heading.
    – MJ Ada
    Dec 5, 2023 at 14:17
  • No. I would never use example 1. My choice would depend on whether the character was supposed to get free soon. If he's pressed against the wall and the struggling (at the moment) doesn't break him free, I'd use example 2. If the character is supposed to break free just by the struggling, I'd use a different construction so that his efforts to free himself seem more direct to the freeing, like kicking his opponent's knee Dec 5, 2023 at 15:24
  • That makes sense. Thanks for elaborating.
    – MJ Ada
    Dec 5, 2023 at 17:07
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Simplicity

The two examples are virtually identical, so the one that is shorter is better. Extra words for the sake of extra words is not good writing.

You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. -- James Baldwin

"Being pressed against the wall..." is not a construction that a native speaker would normally use. It makes me think the Indian foreign exchange students in my college classes (who, for the record, all spoke far better English than my non-existent Hindi.)

Focus

If there's a difference between the two versions, Example 2 example puts the emphasis on the character's struggle whereas the other puts more emphasis on the character's status as stuck.

Normally in fiction, you want to emphasize the decisions and actions of the characters, so the "pressed against" version is likely the better choice.

Overall, I strongly prefer Example 2 since it is both more concise and frames around the character's actions.

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You already know (probably more than me) about the grammar part, but still, let me start from there so that it comes up as a complete answer (or the effort to answer):

Regarding preference, it often depends on the intended nuance and rhythm of the sentence.

The first sentence ("Being pressed...") feels more immediate and dynamic. It vividly portrays the scene, emphasizing the continuous nature of both actions.

The second sentence ("Pressed against...") is more concise and might be preferred for its brevity and slightly more formal tone. It's more suggestive, leaving a bit to the reader's imagination about the sequence of events.

As for literary examples, consider these:

From Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities": "Driven home into the heart of the stone figure attached to it, was a knife."

Here, "Driven home into the heart of the stone figure" is a past participle clause similar to your second example. It suggests an action that has been completed but is relevant to the current situation.

A made-up example: "Lost in thought, she didn't hear the door open."

This sentence uses a past participle ("Lost in thought") similar to your second example. It describes a state simultaneous with the main action (not hearing the door open).

In summary, the choice between these structures often hinges on stylistic preference and the specific nuance or emphasis the writer wishes to convey. The first structure ("Being pressed...") leans towards a more immediate, continuous action, while the second ("Pressed against...") offers brevity and a slightly more formal or suggestive tone.

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  • I'd never considered the formality of it. Very interesting thought process! With your examples, unfortunately, they are not quite the same, though I understand why you might think they are. The Dickens example is a case of fronting and inversion, so the participle clause is a complement, not a supplement. The made-up example could be (and likely would be) argued to be an adjectival use of the participle, as there's no implied agent (doer) of the losing. Thanks for your input, though :)
    – MJ Ada
    Dec 4, 2023 at 12:53

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