In order to put out the terrible fire in a high building, 20 firefighters in Hengyang, Hunan province succeeded in rushing into the building, unfortunately ____ in the fire and ___ their lives.
A) caught, losing
B) catching, lost
C) caught, lost
D) catching, losing
Key A

This is said to be a problematic question, and none of the answers is correct. Even so, I'd like to ask some questions here.

1. in the first blank, "caught" is a past participle, thus it forms an absolute structure.
But why it is wrong?

2. lost/losing
As it was discussed in a previous thread, "their lives" needs a vt verb, isn't its participle form exactly "losing"?

I'd like to hear your enlightening comments.


Many thanks in advance.
Original Post
Yes, none of the choices given are correct.

IMO, the part after the last comma must show active actions (even by agents, in the passive) IF it is a continuation of sentences showing such actions. You need finite verbs for doing that:

In order to put out the terrible fire in a high building, twenty firefighters in Hengyang, Hunan province, succeeded in rushing into the building, but unfortunately were/got caught in the fire themselves and lost their lives.

EDIT: You don't need finite verbs if what you're building after the final comma is an adverbial (see next posts).

You need commas around "Hunan province."

"Lost" is correct, but as a simple past, as it shows an active action, not as a past participle.

However, this would be correct:

Caught in the fire, they lost their lives.

In this case "caught" is a past participle in an adjectival nonfinite clause referring "they."

or:

Lost, he asked for directions.
Last edited by Marius Hancu
I agree this is a badly formed question and maybe there're a lot of ways to reword it.
But
if I want to treat the last part of the sentence in non-finite forms, could it be possible?


Thanks again.
Last edited by mengxin2009
To me, A is very close to that but it fails for one reason: the sequence of actions.

The actions/verbs are in sequence:

succeeding/succeed
catching/catch
losing/lose

A shows the actions of "catching" and "losing" as parallel with "succeeding."

The problem with nonfinite verbs is timing them correctly. They, many times, are "floating" at indefinite moment in time.

Even more in your sentence, you start with
"In order to"

One normally continues that with clear actions:

"In order to do that, they did that and that."
Last edited by Marius Hancu
quote:

In order to put out the terrible fire in a high building, twenty firefighters in Hengyang, Hunan province succeeded in rushing into the building, []were caught in the fire and lost their lives.

Maybe an off-topic question:
I notice you didn't use "and" in the brackets.But that's exactly the reason I was taught why I should use an absolute structure here. (puzzled)

Many thanks again.
Last edited by mengxin2009
A possibility might be:

In order to put out the terrible fire in a high building, twenty firefighters in Hengyang, Hunan province, succeeded in rushing into the building, unfortunately catching fire themselves and losing their lives (in the process/action).

Everything after the last comma is a nonfinite adverbial clause.

However, I'm not too satisfied with the clarity of the sequence of actions after the last comma re the main sentence.

I'd rather have:

In order to put out the terrible fire in a high building, twenty firefighters in Hengyang, Hunan province, succeeded in rushing into the building, unfortunately ended up catching fire themselves and losing their lives (in the process/action).

However, in this case I've added a finite verb "ended up."
Last edited by Marius Hancu
The sentence can be corrected simply by changing one phrase: caughtbecoming caught.

So the complete sentence is this:

• In order to put out the terrible fire in a high building, 20 firefighters in Hengyang, Hunan province, succeeded in rushing into the building, unfortunately becoming caught in the fire and losing their lives.

The choice closest to this is A.

The reason that ‘caught’ alone is not correct is that the firefighters were caught in the fire after they rushed into the building. Therefore, there has to be a verb – in this case a participle – that shows that being caught came after rushing in.

‘Becoming’ shows this. Less formally, you could say ‘getting caught.’

‘Losing’ is parallel with ‘becoming,’ and is correct. So the last phrase is an adverbial phrase – not an adverbial clause.
_______

We can't say 'catching fire' to mean the same thing as 'caught in the fire.'
Last edited by Rachel, Moderator
Rachel said:

quote:
So the complete sentence is this:

• In order to put out the terrible fire in a high building, 20 firefighters in Hengyang, Hunan province, succeeded in rushing into the building, unfortunately becoming caught in the fire and losing their lives.


This is clear, indeed. However the time differential between "rushing into the building" and "becoming caught" is very small in this formulatioin, they "become caught" right during and after the entry.

If the reality was otherwise and they got caught later on during their action, only a finite verb could, IMO, express the longer time differential. Or, perhaps, introducing "later on" somewhere during the final clause.

BTW, I'm using "clause" because this is what Quirk does: if a phrase contains a verb, even non-finite, it is a clause. I'm aware others do differently.
Last edited by Marius Hancu
Jeffrey Turner suggests another alternative, while agreeing with Rachel's:

---
The answer
"trapping themselves," "losing,"
would work, as would "becoming caught."

"Caught" on its own makes no sense. "Forfeiting [their lives]" is a common stand-in for "losing" in this situation.
----
Last edited by Marius Hancu
Well, great minds, Jerry.

'Forfeiting their lives' is not a euphemism for 'becoming trapped' or 'trapping themselves.'

'Forfeiting their lives' is a loaded cliche, and would not just appear in a straight news article.
quote:
'Forfeiting their lives' is not a euphemism for 'becoming trapped' or 'trapping themselves.'


I think you misunderstood, Rachel:

The original answer was:

A) caught, losing

He suggests:

"trapping themselves," "losing"
or:
"trapping themselves," forfeiting"
As I mentioned, 'forfeiting their lives' does not belong in a straight news article, if this is what the passage is from.

And, even so, it would not be the first mention of the firefighters' death.
I just this moment came across a construction like one under discussion on this topic, in a gossip column online:

  • Star says 15-year-old daughter Willow Palin was drinking vodka and smoking pot at a house party, "her eyes getting more and more glazed as the night went on."
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