Present Participle Adjuncts in the Book of Mormon

Abstract: Participle adjuncts in the Book of Mormon are compared with those in the other writings of Joseph Smith and with English in general. Participle adjuncts include present participle phrases, e.g., “having gained the victory over death” (Mosiah 15:8); present participle clauses, e.g., “he having four sons” (Ether 6:20), and a double-subject adjunct construction, known as the coreferential subject construction, where both subjects refer to the same thing, as in “Alma, being the chief judge . . . of the people of Nephi, therefore he went up with the people” (Alma 2:16).1 The Book of Mormon is unique in the occurrences of extremely long compound adjunct phrases and coreferential subject constructions, indicating that Joseph Smith used a very literal translation style for the Book of Mormon.

One striking feature of Book of Mormon English is its distinctive use of present participle adjuncts. I present here a study showing that the Book of Mormon frequently features participle adjunct constructions that Joseph Smith did not typically use in his own language and which were not common in the English of the time. Given that the English Book of Mormon is a work of translation, these unique features shed light on Joseph Smith’s style as a translator.2 He must have been rendering a literal translation of the original Book of Mormon text rather than recasting the ideas of the original text into his own idiolect.

Present participle adjuncts are typically divided into participle phrases and participle clauses. A present participle phrase is a present participle adjunct without an explicit, grammatical subject, for example, “And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death” (Mosiah 15:8). A present participle clause contains an explicit subject, for example, “And the number of sons and daughters of Jared were twelve, he having four sons” (Ether 6:20).

In addition, the Book of Mormon makes frequent use of a participle adjunct construction that is rare outside the Book of Mormon. It is a double-subject construction, where two subjects are separated by a present participle adjunct; both subjects refer to the same person or thing, and the second subject is the subject of a finite clause, as in “Now Alma, being the chief judge and the governor of the people of Nephi, therefore he went up with his people” (Alma 2:16). I have identified some fifty-four examples of this pattern in the Book of Mormon,3 including the very first verse of the entire book: “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father” (1 Nephi 1:1).

I have used the neutral term coreferential subject construction to describe these constructions because, while they all have two subjects with the same referent, their exact grammatical structure is somewhat ambiguous. The first subject may be the subject of a participle clause, or it may be that both are redundant finite clause subjects surrounding a participle phrase.

Scope of the Study This study looks briefly at Book of Mormon participle adjuncts in general and then concentrates on participle clauses and coreferential subject constructions in an effort to illuminate Joseph Smith’s style of translation. It also examines clues to the true grammatical nature of the coreferential subject construction.

I first studied present participle adjuncts in the Book of Mormon. I then contrasted their use in the Book of Mormon with their use in Joseph Smith’s other writings and translations, namely, the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and The Words of Joseph Smith.4 To examine the possibility that Joseph Smith might have been imitating a biblical style in his Book of Mormon translation, I also examined participles in the King James Version of the Bible. The study was conducted using CD-ROM versions of the LDS standard works and the writings of Joseph Smith.5 I also consulted English grammars to determine if the participle adjuncts used in Book of Mormon English were considered acceptable in the nineteenth century.

Because participle adjuncts are very common in all the works examined, a representative sample seems sufficient to establish usage trends. Therefore this study is limited largely to the most common participles, having and being, and other participles known to form coreferential subject constructions, namely knowing, seeing, and supposing.

I will first make some general observations on participle adjuncts in the Book of Mormon and then examine Book of Mormon participle clauses and coreferential subject constructions in detail.

General Observations on Participle Adjuncts

Frequency of Adjuncts Participle adjuncts are extremely common in the Book of Mormon. The Infobases online version lists 2,783 words ending in -ing in the running text of the Book of Mormon. Although a number of these represent nonparticiples such as bring, sing, notwithstanding, according, building (as a noun), and being (as a noun), nevertheless, many of the -ing words are probably participial. Present participle adjuncts are also very common in all the other works studied, and, with certain exceptions noted below, are used in much the same way as in the Book of Mormon.

Adjunct Strings One general difference between the Book of Mormon and the other works studied is in the use of adjunct strings. The Book of Mormon writers had an apparent love for stringing participle adjuncts together in long compound phrases, as in the following:

But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord—having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise—behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them. (2 Nephi 1:10)

Other examples include Omni 1:15; Mosiah 15:89; Alma 9:19–22 (which contains a string of no less than thirteen participle adjuncts); Alma 13:28–9; Helaman 7:4–5; and 3 Nephi 7:15–6.

Compounds with more than two participle adjuncts are comparatively rare in all the other works studied, although the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price each have a few striking examples. For example, D&C 19:2–3 has a string of five participle adjuncts; and D&C 76:35 and Abraham 1:1–2 each have a string of four participle adjuncts.

Contrastive Analysis of Present Participle Clauses

Frequency of Participle Clauses Present participle clauses are very common in the Book of Mormon and in the writings of Joseph Smith. They are also very common in general English, as F. Th. Visser proves in his exhaustive treatment of participle adjuncts in An Historical Syntax of the English Language.6 Visser cites nearly three hundred examples of present participle clauses from Middle English through present-day English. Among his citations are many from contemporaries of Joseph Smith, such as Charles Dickens (1843): “They walked along the road, Scrooge recognising every gate, and post, and tree.”7

Acceptability of Participle Clauses The treatment of the participle clause in English grammars forms an interesting side note. While participle clauses are demonstrably common and accepted in most grammars, a few grammarians have considered them to be unnatural English. Visser lists his three hundred examples largely to refute the dissenters such as C. H. Ross, who opined in 1893 that in early Modern English the construction “limited itself to certain favorite authors where the classical element largely predominated, and was used but sparingly by authors whose style was essentially English,”8 and Sweet, who said in 1903: “The absolute participle construction is not only uncolloquial, but is by many felt to be un-English, and to be avoided in writing as well.”9 Visser also refers to the work of a more recent grammarian:

Vallins . . . says that, with the exception of a number of standard idiomatic collocations such as “weather permitting,” “other things being equal,” the construction does not belong to colloquial Pres. D. English, and that it would be more natural, and therefore more idiomatic, to say “As the match was over early, we decided to go to the theatre.”10

This disagreement among grammarians may simply be prescriptivism running counter to actual usage. The dissenting grammarians were perhaps unaware of how widely used the participle clause really is, or perhaps they simply had their own opinions about what constitutes good and bad English. In any event, it is clear that participle clauses are very much a part of English and are acceptable to most grammarians.

Pronominal Subjects The grammatical case of the present participle clause subject can be determined when the subject is a pronoun. Many present participle clauses in the Book of Mormon contain pronominal subjects, and in each instance, the subject pronoun is in the nominative case, as in these examples: “And I, Moroni, having heard these words, was comforted” (Ether 12:29); “And again, it showeth unto the children of men . . . the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them” (2 Nephi 31:9); “Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men, they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal” (Alma 12:31); and “save it were one of the Lamanitish women, whose name was Abish, she having been converted unto the Lord for many years” (Alma 19:16).

The case of the present participle clause subject is another point of controversy. While most grammarians have considered the nominative case to be acceptable, others have thought it incorrect. Visser quotes several nineteenth-century grammarians on this subject who claimed that participle clause subjects should be in the objective case. Among these were E. Adams,11 R. G. Latham,12 and C. H. Ross.13 And again, Visser proceeds to prove them wrong. He shows that participle clause subjects in the objective case were occasionally found in Old English and Middle English, but then died out completely until their “reappearance in familiar English at the end of the nineteenth century.”14 As an example of their reappearance, he quotes H. G. Wells in “The Country of the Blind” (1911): “It will be a very good match for me, m’m, me being an orphan girl.”15 Visser claims that nominative subjects have always been more common, and indeed, about half of Visser’s three hundred examples of present participle clauses have nominative pronoun subjects.

As in the Book of Mormon, all the pronominal participle clause subjects in the Bible are nominative. I have found five examples of pronominal participle clause subjects in the writings of Joseph Smith. In four of them he uses the nominative case. This passage from the Manuscript History of the Church, 17 March 1842, referring to the founding of the Relief Society, is typical:

I gave much instruction, read in the New Testament, and Book of Doctrine and Covenants concerning the Elect Lady, and shewed that the elect meant to be elected to a certain work &c and that the revelation was then fulfilled by Sister Emma’s election to the Presidency of the Society, she having previously been ordained to expound Scriptures.16

In the fifth instance, a passage from the Seaton letter (1833), he uses the reflexive case:

Mr. Editor:—Sir, Considering the liberal principles upon which your interesting and valuable paper is published, myself being a subscriber, and feeling a deep interest in the cause of Zion, and in the happiness of my brethren of mankind, I cheerfully take up my pen to contribute my mite at this very interesting and important period.17

Visser cites only two examples of reflexive participle clause subjects, both from the fifteenth century. However, compare with modern usage as described in the entry for myself in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: “[Myself] is used . . . as an emphasizing substitute . . . for I, in an absolute construction: Myself in debt, I could offer no assistance.”18 Smith may have used myself as an intensive substitute for the nominative.

If Visser is correct (and his exhaustive research makes him credible), then the Book of Mormon simply follows the language of the time in its use of nominative pronominal subjects in participle clauses. It also follows the style of Joseph Smith, although we have seen that he did not limit himself to the nominative case.

Contrastive Analysis of Coreferential Subject Constructions

Frequency and Acceptability of Coreferential Subject Constructions While participle clauses are common both in the Book of Mormon and in general English, coreferential subject constructions are rarely found outside the Book of Mormon, and grammarians universally decry them. For example, Rene Dirven maintains that an initial participle adjunct needs to take an explicit subject if “there is a danger of mixing up the subjects of the main clause and the adverbial clause . . . the so-called dangling participle.”19 He cites the following contrasting sentences as an example:

Having finished his homework, his father said John could go to the cinema.

John having finished his homework, his father said he could go to the cinema.20

Dirven points out that “in such case (i.e. the explicit subject of the main clause being different from the implicit subject of the subordinate non-finite clause), the subject of the adverbial clause must be stated.”21 For Dirven, such constructions are called for only when the two subjects are not coreferential.

Visser takes up the issue of constructions where “the subject of the -ing form and the subject of the main syntactical unit refer to the same person.”22 He quotes Brittain (1778) on the subject:

This very vulgar impropriety, or tautology, comes from falsely imagining that the foregoing noun, being modified and affected by the participle, is rendered incapable of becoming the nominative to a following verb: wherefore a needless pronoun is intruded; and the noun itself, though visibly agent in the latter phrase, is left in suspense.23

He also quotes Onions’s An Advanced English Syntax (1905):

The nature of the origin of the construction evidently precluded the possibility of the subject of both clauses referring to the same person or thing. Hence the rarity and awkwardness of such a sentence as: “Our guest at last arriving, he was called upon to sing.” (Change the construction by omitting he.)24

For once, Visser agrees with the grammarians he cites. He says: “In Pres. D. English the idiom is generally avoided in literary English.”25 He does proceed to cite thirty examples of coreferential subject constructions in Middle and Modern English, but the examples here are meant to emphasize the unusualness of the construction, unlike the hundreds of examples he cites of other participle clauses to emphasize their ubiquity. A few of his examples of coreferential subject constructions are: “He growing weaker daily by the violence of his disease, . . . he desired to fortify himself with the buckler of a true Catholic in this last action” (Rob. Rookwood, 1623),26Macbeth having come into the room, he took the two dirks” (W. Scott, 1830);27 and “The whole building being of wood, it seemed to carry every sound, like a drum” (D. H. Lawrence, 1921).28

No coreferential subject constructions have been found in the Doctrine and Covenants or the Pearl of Great Price, and they are very rare in the other writings of Joseph Smith and in the Bible. I found only one occurrence in the Bible: “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself” (John 13:3–4).

I found three occurrences in the writings of Joseph Smith. One is from his 1834 account of Zion’s camp: “Martin Harris having boasted to the brethren that he could handle snakes with perfect safety, while fooling with a black snake with his bare feet, he received a bite on his left foot.”29 The second is from a discourse on the priesthood that Joseph dictated to his scribe, Robert B. Thompson, in 1840: “The power, glory, and blessings of the priesthood could not continue with those who received ordination only as their righteousness continued, for Cain also being authorized to offer sacrifice but not offering it in righteousness, therefore he was cursed.”30 The final occurrence is in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, where Joseph Smith changed a passage in Genesis from its King James Version reading of “And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her: and she went down to the well” (Genesis 24:16 KJV) to “And the damsel being a virgin, being very fair to look at, such as the servant of Abraham had not seen, neither had any man known the like unto her; and she went down to the well” (Genesis 16:24 JST).

Connective Words Not only are coreferential subject constructions unusual outside the Book of Mormon, the presence of connective words between the clauses of Book of Mormon coreferential subject constructions makes their Book of Mormon usage even more unique. These connective words, often therefore or wherefore, occur between the end of the participle adjunct and the second subject, as in the following examples: “Now behold, this was the desire of Amalickiah; for he being a very subtle man to do evil therefore he laid the plan in his heart to dethrone the king of the Lamanites” (Alma 47:4); “And he, supposing that I spake of the brethren of the church, and that I was truly that Laban whom I had slain, wherefore he did follow me” (1 Nephi 4:26); and “Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it—And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God” (Enos 1:1–2).

Only three connective words were found in coreferential subject constructions outside the Book of Mormon. Visser cites one example using yet, and two examples were found in the writings of Joseph Smith. One is his rendering of Genesis 24:16 (shown above), which has an and, but may not be significant because the connective word was already present in the original, noncoreferential subject construction version. He also uses therefore in his 1840 discourse on the priesthood (shown above). This latter passage is quite similar to the Book of Mormon style; however, the characteristic Book of Mormon therefores and wherefores are conspicuously absent in all other coreferential subject constructions outside the Book of Mormon.

Nature of the Coreferential Subject Construction Let us now look at the question of the grammatical nature of the coreferential subject constructions in the Book of Mormon. As reported earlier, these possibly involve participle clauses. If this is the case, then, using the previously quoted “Now Alma, being the chief judge and the governor of the people of Nephi, therefore he went up with his people” (Alma 2:16) as an example, the first subject, Alma, would be the subject of the participle clause, and the second subject, he, would be the subject of the finite clause.

However, it can also be argued that the participle adjunct in these constructions is really a participle phrase that happens to come between the subject of a finite clause and the epanaleptic repetition of that finite clause subject. Epanalepsis is very common in the Book of Mormon.31 It is the practice of repeating part of a sentence after an intervening phrase to pull the reader back to the main thought. The repeated material serves no independent grammatical function in the sentence, but merely restates an earlier sentence element, as in

And it came to pass that the Nephites who were not slain by the weapons of war, after having buried those who had been slain—now the number of the slain were not numbered, because of the greatness of their number—after they had finished burying their dead they all returned to their lands, and to their houses, and their wives, and their children. (Alma 3:1)

If the coreferential subject construction shown above in Alma 2:16 is epanaleptic, then the first subject, Alma, would be the subject of the finite clause, and the second subject, he, would merely be a restatement of the finite clause subject after an intervening participial phrase.32

My sense is that many of these constructions involve participle clauses; however, the Book of Mormon text yields no clear clues as to their grammatical nature. Both participle phrases and participle clauses are common in the Book of Mormon, and both occur in contexts that are similar to coreferential subject constructions. Participle phrases often follow finite clause subjects, as in “Now the people having heard a great noise came running together by multitudes to know the cause of it” (Alma 14:29) and

And it came to pass that Nephihaving been visited by angels and also the voice of the Lord, therefore having seen angels, and being eye-witness, and having had power given unto him that he might know concerning the ministry of Christ, and also being eye-witness to their quick return from righteousness unto their wickedness and abominations; Therefore, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds—went forth among them in that same year. (3 Nephi 7:15–6)

On the other hand, participle clauses often precede finite clauses, as in “Now it came to pass that I, Nephi, having been afflicted with my brethren because of the loss of my bow, and their bows having lost their springs, it began to be exceedingly difficult, yea, insomuch that we could obtain no food” (1 Nephi 16:21).

Also, while the Book of Mormon writers had a known penchant for epanalepsis, the participle adjuncts in some coreferential subject constructions are so short that an epanaleptic resumption of the subject to pull the reader back to the main line of thought seems quite unnecessary, for example, “Now Moroni seeing their confusion, he said unto them” (Alma 52:37).

The strongest evidence comes from the findings of modern grammarians, who seem to be unanimous that coreferential subject constructions involve participle clauses. In particular, Visser, who is a very careful grammarian and extraordinarily thorough in this treatment of participle adjuncts, accepts without question that the first subject in a coreferential subject construction is the subject of the participle clause. On the other hand, the Book of Mormon has at least one definite case of the second subject being epanaleptic after a participle adjunct. This unique example combines both a clear case of participial epanalepsis with an unambiguous participle clause: “And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship” (Alma 63:5).

This curious example serves well to summarize the debate about the true nature of coreferential subject constructions in the Book of Mormon. While evidence exists for both the participle clause and epanalepsis explanations, Alma 63:5 shows that coreferential subject constructions could have been a combination of both tendencies in the writing of the Book of Mormon authors.

Joseph Smith’s Translation Style In conclusion, comparing participle adjuncts in the Book of Mormon with their use in other English publications sheds a good deal of light on Joseph Smith as a translator. The concatenation of participle adjuncts into long compound phrases is extremely common in the Book of Mormon, but rare in the other works studied. The occurrence of more than fifty coreferential subject constructions in the Book of Mormon compared to their extreme rarity in Joseph Smith’s other writings and in English in general is remarkable. Finally, the use of connective words between the clauses of a coreferential subject construction is virtually unknown outside the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith must have been a very literal translator because he consistently used expressions in his translation that were very foreign to his own idiolect and to English in general.


1. Within quotations, boldface type is used for the subjects; italics indicate participle adjuncts.

2. My paper seeks to show that these constructions are unusual English without reference to the source language of the Book of Mormon. Brian Stubbs convincingly shows that these same unusual constructions are likely renderings of typical Semitic structures in his “A Lengthier Treatment of Length,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (1996): 82–97, and his article in this volume: “A Short Addition to Length: Some Relative Frequencies of Circumstantial Structures,” pages 39–46.

3. I have found the following coreferential subject constructions in the Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 1:1; 2:16; 4:26, 31; 7:8; 10:17; 15:3; 18:17; Jacob 7:3; Enos 1:1–2; Omni 1:1–2, 12–3, 28; Words of Mormon 1:1; Mosiah 1:4; 10:19; 19:4; 20:3, 17; Alma 1:1, 9; 2:16; 5:3; 9:1; 12:1; 15:17–8; 16:5; 18:16, 22; 19:2, 14; 43:30; 46:34; 47:4; 48:2; 50:30; 52:21, 33, 37; 56:29; 62:19; 63:5; Helaman 2:6–7; 11:23; 3 Nephi 6:17; 7:12; Mormon 1:2, 5, 15; 4:23; 5:8–9; Ether 13:16; Moroni 1:1; 7:22.

4. Joseph Smith left behind very few holographic writings. The writings of Joseph Smith examined here have for the most part been edited and were often recorded by others from sermons Joseph Smith preached. Nevertheless, although the writings in this study may not strictly be his own words, they certainly reflect the language of his contemporaries and therefore the language with which Joseph Smith was familiar.

5. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), and The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, 2nd rev. ed. (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1996), both in Infobases LDS Collector’s Library ’97 CD-ROM.

6. F. Th. Visser, An Historical Syntax of the English Language; Part Two, Syntactical Units with One Verb (Leiden: Brill, 1966), 1147–60.

7. Ibid., 1153, emphasis added.

8. C. H. Ross, “The Absolute Participle in Middle and Modern English,” PMLA 8 (1893): 38, quoted in Visser, Historical Syntax, 1149.

9. H. Sweet, A New English Grammar II (Oxford, 1903), 124, quoted in Visser, Historical Syntax, 1150.

10. Visser, Historical Syntax, 1150, quoting G. H. Vallins, The Pattern of English (London: Language Library, 1956), 74.

11. E. Adams, The Elements of the English Language (London, 1858), quoted in Visser, Historical Syntax, 1149.

12. R. G. Latham, Essential Rules and Principles (London, 1876), quoted in Visser, Historical Syntax, 1149.

13. Ross, “The Absolute Participle,” 38.

14. Visser, Historical Syntax, 1147.

15. Ibid., emphasis added.

16. Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 106, emphasis added.

17. TPJS, 13, emphasis added.

18. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), s.v. “myself.”

19. René Dirven, A User’s Grammar of English (Frankfurt: Lang, 1989), 580.

20. Ibid., 580–1.

21. Ibid., 581.

22. Visser, Historical Syntax, 1159.

23. Brittain, Rudiments of English Grammar (Louvain, 1778), 97–9, quoted in Visser, Historical Syntax, 1159, emphasis in the original.

24. C. T. Onions, An Advanced English Syntax, 4th ed. (London, 1905), quoted in Visser, Historical Syntax, 1159.

25. Visser, Historical Syntax, 1159.

26. Ibid., emphasis added.

27. Ibid., 1160, emphasis added.

28. Ibid., emphasis added.

29. TPJS, 71–2, emphasis added.

30. Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 40, emphasis added.

31. See Larry G. Childs, “Epanalepsis in the Book of Mormon” (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1986), where I first identified the possibly epanaleptic nature of these constructions.

32. The punctuation of this verse seems to indicate a participle phrase construction—Alma is set off from the following participle adjunct by a comma. However, the punctuation is unreliable. The printer E. B. Grandin, who first added punctuation marks to the Book of Mormon text, was inconsistent in his punctuation of coreferential subject constructions.