Submitted by m56 on September 6, 2005

Odd sentence?

Anything odd about this sentence?

“All of a sudden, there was a bottle breaking on the table.”

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Definitely odd. The ing form of the verb is not used for instantaneous events, only for ongoing activities.* All of a sudden has to reference an instantaneous event such as saying the bottle broke.


* the actual grammatical term for ing verbs is continuous, but for my ESL folks, I call them ongoing cause it helps them remember how to use ing words.

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Thanks, Janet. I find the sentence odd, but we can use "all of a sudden" with the progressive form.

All of a sudden, he was swimming for his life.

All of a sudden, she was hitting me with a big stick.

I'm wondering why it doesn't work in the case of a bottle.

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Well, I wouldn't say either of those other sentences either!

The waves can be breaking on the shore. The new play can be breaking even. But the bottle has to break suddenly, not be breaking suddenly. Implies it took a long time, or at least a measurable time, to break.

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I think the sentence would be odd without the phrase "all of a sudden". To me the oddness comes from two things:
(1) Grammatical style: the expletive construction "there was" makes the sentence unnecessarily wordy. The subject of the sentence follows the verb, and there is no reason to shift emphasis away from the subject.
(2) semantic: bottles don't break themselves. In M56's other examples the subject is doing the action expressed by the verb. I think the following is OK. What do you think?
"all of a sudden, a bottle was being broken (by Bob) on the table."
or
"All of a sudden. Bob was breaking a bottle on the table."

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What's odd is this: the bottle isn't breaking itself. Using the passive voice is weird here.

Saying, "All of a sudden, Fred broke a bottle on the table" would make much more sense.

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Swimming and running are ongoing activities -- you can be running for several hours. A bottle breaks in a second.

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i think it's very odd, i'd just say "all of a sudden, a bottle broke on the table"

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Other than being written in the passive voice, which can kill any sentence, the sentence is mediocre, at best. Try "The bottle on the table broke." The adverb "suddenly" weakens the sentence. After all, how can a bottle break slowly?

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Perfectly acceptable in the case of a story being recounted in a casual fashion with an element of drama thrown in for good measure:)

It might continue thus;

"...and all hell broke loose"

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-ing verbs... aka "gerund"

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It is written with passive voice; it sounds more melodious that way. It is grammatically correct.

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Hold on, that isn't the passive voice, what are you talking about?

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It is passive voice. Passive voice is one of the least noticed grammatical errors. However, the breaking of a bottle is instantaneous, and almost never has a present tense. If it did, it would sound like:

All of a sudden, a bottle is breaking on the table.

Yet while the speaker says that, the act has already occured. Therefore, it is almost ALWAYS referred to in the past tense.

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Wait a minute, now. While it is certainly likely the the true intent was to use "broke", it is not ungrammatical with "breaking". Consider this scenario: The bottle was sitting on a table for years and years, unmolested. Then, all of a sudden, without any explanation, a crack developed on the mouth of the bottle. The crack grew and grew over the course of many hours, even spawning new cracks. Eventually, the bottle was so badly damaged that it flew apart into a million pieces, each piece developing its own cracks. Couldn't this situation be accurately described by the sample sentence?

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A556 Sep-25-05 7:28PM

Perfectly acceptable in the case of a story being recounted in a casual fashion with an element of drama thrown in for good measure:)

It might continue thus;

"...and all hell broke loose"

+++++++++++++++

A556 is A1 on the money.

Additionally, Matt, Dave & Mike, this is not the passive.

The passive form of this would be,

All of a sudden, there was a bottle BEING [breaking] BROKEN on the table [by someone]."

The passive requires a form of the 'be' verb + a past participle.

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