Grammar question: Disguised or Disguising?

“Disguised as an old man, the villain tricked the hero.”

or

“Disguising as an old man, the villain tricked the hero.”

My native speaker intuition tells me that both are acceptable, but I’m thinking there must be a specific rule that would address this and explain why other pairs wouldn’t be acceptable, for example:

“Pretending to be an old man, the villain tricked the hero.”
X “Pretended as an old man…” “Pretended to be an old man…”

“Acting as/like an old man, the villain tricked the hero.”
X “Acted like an old man…” “Acted as an old man…”

Edit: Or, am I wrong in thinking that “Disguising as an old man…” is correct, and I am overgeneralizing the correct gerund usage:

“Disguising as as old man worked to trick the hero.”

You can’t compare the verb disguise with the verbs act and pretend, because they don’t have reflexive forms. Furthermore, disguise has no intransitive usage.

*He acted himself as an old man,

or

*He pretended himself to be an old man.

Nor, as far as I know, is it grammatical to say,

*He disguises as an old man.

The verb has to take an object (or be reflexive). So to be grammatical, it needs to be disguised as an old man.

As guizot says, “disguise” is transitive, so it needs to take an object. In both cases, you need to add “himself” after “disguising”: Disguising himself as an old man…

I read it as the firs one being in past tense and the second having a confused tense. Like it should read, “Disguising as an old man, the villain tricks the hero.”

“Disguised” is correct, and also simpler than any alternatives. But “having disguised himself . . .” would also be acceptable, emphasizing the fact that the disguise was his own doing.

No, that’s still not idiomatic. It would be idiomatic to say, “Disguising himself as an old man…”

So then, is there a similar grammatically correct sentence where the pronoun ‘himself’ could be implied? In this case it doesn’t even sound right, the form of the verb leads the reader in the wrong direction, but I think pronouns can be implied other times. Or is that always grammatically incorrect?

I’m scratching my head now because I can’t think of an example. But I’m often finding myself wondering if I am misusing reflexive pronouns. Only the the redundant case is occurring to me, as if I had written “…if I myself am misusing…” in the previous sentence.

Actually, it’s not really a transitive/intransitive issue. The first clause in both sentences in the OP are participial phrases,functioning as adjectives rather than verbs.

“Disguising as an old man” may be technically correct as far as grammar goes, but it sounds “off” without adding “himself.”

Suppose that the villain has a professional makeup and wardrobe artist on his staff, just for such purposes. The makeup artist is then the one who’s doing the disguising, while the villain is the one who’s disguised.

I was thinking about that too, but this didn’t pass the “who/which” test:

The villain is disguised as an old man.
The villain who is disguised as an old man… (becomes an adjective clause)
The villain, disguised as an old man,… (dropping of who and is)
The disguised villain tricked the hero. (past participle of the verb “disguise” becomes a correct adjective.)

“Disguising,” in any tense, cannot follow the same reduction into the present participle adjective form (e.g. The freezing wind,) because as stated above it is a reflexive verb that requires an object, yet it still sounds correct to me.

Hmm, maybe I’m overgeneralizing the non-autocausitive use of “disguise”:
“Autocausative” reflexive denotes that the (usually animate) “referent represented by the subject combines the activity of actor and undergoes a change of state as a patient” (wiki)

Compare with:

Disguising his true intentions, the villain tricked the hero. (non-reflexive, correct use.)
X Disguised his true intentions, the villain tricked the hero.

Therefore:
“Disguised as an old man” is the use of the past participle form of the verb disguise, and is a correct adjective phrase.
“Disguising his intentions” is also the correct adjective use of the verb disguise, but in the non-reflexive, present participle form.
“Disguising himself as an old man” is the correct use of the autocausative form of the verb disguise which requires an object.

I think my mistake was that “Disguising as an old man” felt acceptable because of the non-reflexive use of disguising.

Thanks everybody. :slight_smile:

Is that a transitive makeup artist, or an idomatic one?

Yes, but the semantics of participle phrases are determined by the agency/patiency relationships represented by the verbs from which they derive–by the way in which those verbs are transitive (or not). The problem for the OP is that this becomes hard to pin down when the modifier isn’t attributive (together with the noun villain), but rather predicative (as a separate phrase).

With more straight-forward structures, we can easily see, for example, how the difference between whether a person is bored or boring depends upon the agency-patiency (in this case, the subject/object relationship) of the verb bore.

The lecture bores me. => I’m bored // The lecture is boring.
(In this case, the lecture is the subject of the verb bore, me is the object.)

I bore my students. => I’m boring. // My students are bored.
(In this case, I is the subject of the verb, my students the object.)

And so a verb which is intransitive (i.e., which doesn’t take an object), can’t form a past participle adjective. For example you obviously can’t form a past participle adjective from the (intransitive) verb shine (meaning “to emit light”), as in this attributive example:

*The shone star appeared in the sky.

But you can form a present participle attributive adjective from it:

The shining star appeared in the sky., etc.

By the same token, when a verb is ALWAYS construed as transitive (or reflexive), such as disguise, then a LONE present participle adjective is non-grammatical. Such adjective forms are EITHER hyphenated with an object:

We used an error-disguising process to conceal the fault,

OR the object of the verb from which the adjective is derived is clear from context

The faults are almost always disguised by some trick, and the disguising trick is hard to identify.

Here, the object of the verb disguise is understood from context to be faults. (They’re fault-disguising tricks)

However, this kind of contextual cue doesn’t work in the OP’s examples, because the participle adjective phrases are being used predicatively and set apart. (I.e., disguising and disguised aren’t collocated with villain in the examples.) This is one reason to use the “who/which test” that Superhal mentions above.

By the way, this situation (using participle adjective phrases predicatively), is the circumstance which underlies some of the classic examples of misused modifiers that English-teacher-types constantly throw at civilians:

*Flying over the African landscape, the elephant herd looked magnificent.
*

*Covered in mustard and relish, I enjoyed the hot dog. *

and so on…

Just because they are acting like adjectives doesn’t mean they don’t act the same way as they would as verbs, at least as regards to being transitive or intransitive.