A recent question I’ve been asked is whether or not the following sentence is correct, as it sounded strange to the learner: “With the restaurant having closed, there was nowhere to eat.” What do you think? Better as “As the restaurant had closed…” or “With the restaurant closed…”? Perhaps – but the sentence is actually possible – it’s just difficult to explain how it is used.
When to use an –ing form for a perfect meaning
Let’s start by saying this is a rather lofty construction, it’s not the most common or simplest way to construct a sentence. I would certainly warn against using it without a good reason. This structure would be used in a particular context to emphasise the recent process of the restaurant closing.
Effectively it is like a perfect tense and would be used for a similar meaning (you may find it referenced as “using an -ing form for perfect meaning” – though I’ve had a little look myself and haven’t found many useful explanations of specifically this!). It’s used in a slightly different way to a perfect tense, though, which I think is made clearest with examples.
Examples of –ing forms and different tenses
“As the restaurant was closed, there was nowhere to eat.” – the Past Simple is just concerned with the result, the restaurant was closed and we don’t care when it closed. We understand it was closed at the point that we arrived, but that is not explicit.
“As the restaurant had closed, there was nowhere to eat.” – the Past Perfect creates a sequence, so we know the restaurant closed before we arrived – this brings a sense of timing, perhaps to demonstrate it closed recently.
“With the restaurant having closed, there was nowhere to eat.” – like the Past Perfect, this tells us it happened before we visited, with a very similar use. To my mind, though, this emphasises both the recent nature and the consequence of the action. It draws attention to the process – and by doing so we are aware of it being an action, completed by someone. It makes it more active.
That’s the different tenses forms, but what about if we just said “With the restaurant closed, there was nowhere to eat.”? This is the simpler form, but it doesn’t tell us about the action. It highlights the state of the restaurant, not the regrettable activity that someone closed it!
Here’s a couple more examples to build on this:
“With the rain having fallen, it was now safe to go out.” – In this example, it highlights the process and activity of rainfall – to say “With the rain fallen…” would suggest it was a specific and limited (even known) quantity of rain, rather than the more fluid nature of rain.
“With the chairman having spoken, the treasurer took to the stage.” – Again emphasising that the recent action had a process that was completed – to say “After the chairman had spoken…” creates the same sequence but emphasises the completion rather than the activity.
Again, this isn’t the most common construction, and has a very particular purpose, but used correctly (and very sparingly) it can add a little colour to your language. If you have any further questions, or similar problems you’re interested in, do let me know!