I have been wondering about this, since every time I hand in a 作文 in a Japanese class, I'm corrected on conjunctions. It seems to me that whenever I use a てform as a conjunction, a response comes back that it has a cause-and-effect feel. I thought that it was just neutral, since there are so many different ways to express cause and effect, but it seems that might not actually be the case. That being said, I thought that stem forms and なく might be the actually neutral way to join two clauses. I just wanted to know if I'm correct.
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te-form is similar to the English participial construction, and has the following restrictions as opposed to using the stem.
1) It implies temporal order
2) Volitionality of what is connected must match
Note that this second restriction is reminiscent of, if not exactly the same as, prohibition against dangling participle in English.
These two restrictions together may indirectly lead to the impression that there is a cause-and-effect feel for te-form.