Participle clauses

Participle clauses are a form of adverbial clause which enables us to say information in a more economical way. We can use participle clauses when the participle and the verb in the main clause have the same subject. For example:

Waiting for John, I made some tea.

Waiting for John, the kettle boiled. [This would suggest that the kettle was waiting for John!]

 

Forming participle clauses

Participle clauses can be formed with the present participle (-ing form of the verb) or past participle (third form of the verb). Participle clauses with past participles have a passive meaning:

Shouting loudly, Peter walked home. [Peter was shouting]

Shouted at loudly, Peter walked home. [Someone was shouting at Peter]

If we wish to emphasise that one action was before another then we can use a perfect participle (having + past participle):

Having won the match, Susan jumped for joy.

Having been told the bad news, Susan sat down and cried.

 

The meaning and use of participle clauses

Participle clauses give information about condition, reason, result or time. For example:

Condition (in place of an if-condition):

Looked after carefully, this coat will keep you warm through many winters.

Compare: If you look after it carefully, this coat will keep you warm through many winters.

Reason (in place of words like so or therefore):

Wanting to speak to him about the contract, I decided to arrange a meeting.

Compare: I wanted to speak to him about the contract so I decided to arrange a meeting.

Result (in place of words like because or as a result):

I had no time to read my book, having spent so long doing my homework.

Compare: I had no time to read my book because I had spent so long doing my homework.

Time (in place of words like when, while or as soon as):

Sitting at the cafe with my friends, I suddenly realised that I had left the oven on at home.

Compare: While I was sitting at the cafe with my friends, I suddenly realised that I had left the oven on at home.

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Comments

Hello,
I always prefer to see these as 'participle phrases' rather than 'participle clauses'.

However, surely they are adjectival rather than adverbial. For example, in your first example, surely 'waiting for John' is describing me (the 'I' in the sentence), not the making of tea.

Regards.

Hello CJM,

As far as I know, both terms are used, but if you prefer one over the other, then of course go ahead and use it. 'Waiting for John' in the first example is adverbial – think of it as meaning something like 'while I was waiting'.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Sorry, but it still seems adjectival to me, because it is still referring to 'I', not to the making of tea. To alter the word order, we might say, 'I, waiting for John, made some tea'; but we wouldn't really say, 'I made, waiting for John, some tea'.

Another key, in your alternative, 'while I was waiting', is that the 'was waiting' is referring to 'I' - as an adjectival phrase.

I do think that participle phrases are usually adjectival in this way. Could you point me to any other reference where they are explained as adverbial?

Thank you.

Regards,
Catherine.

Hi CJM,

This is quite a moot point in grammar and the subject of some discussion. There are those who feel all participle clauses (phrases) are adjectival in function, while others see them as adverbial in many examples.

Switching the word order of the sentence around does not prove that it is adjectival. For example, let's use a different noun in place of 'I':

Waiting for John, the man made some tea.

Following your line of argument, I could say it cannot be adjectival because we cannot say

The waiting-for-John man made some tea.

I don't think this is a very fruitful way to determine its role in the sentence. Essentially, it is a question of whether you consider 'waiting for John' to be describing 'I' (in which case you may see it as a reduced relative clause and adjectival) or to be describing the action, as an adverbial of time answering the question 'when'. You can make an argument either way, I would say, but the traditional route has been the description on this page. Here is a scan of a standard grammar book explanation, for example.

Your earlier point regarding whether it is appropriate to describe this as a clause or phrase is also an area of debate. The Wikipedia page on participles sums it up nicely, I think:

A verb phrase based on a participle and having the function of a participle is called a participle phrase or participial phrase (participial is the adjective derived from participle). For example, looking hard at the sign and beaten by his father are participial phrases based respectively on an English present participle and past participle. Participial phrases generally do not require an expressed grammatical subject; therefore such a verb phrase also constitutes a complete clause (one of the types of nonfinite clause). As such, it may be called a participle clause or participial clause. (Occasionally a participial clause does include a subject, as in the English nominative absolute construction The king having died, ... .)

https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Participle

There is also quite a clear discussion of the adverb/adjective point there, with the example discussed very similar to the one on this page:

The present participle is one of the uses of the -ing form of a verb. This usage is adjectival or adverbial. The main uses of this participle, or of participial phrases introduced by it, are as follows. (Uses of gerunds and verbal nouns, which take the same -ing form, appear in sections below.)

As an adverbial phrase, where the role of subject of the nonfinite verb is usually understood to be played by the subject of the main clause (but see dangling participle). A participial clause like this may be introduced by a conjunction such as when or while.

Looking out of the window, Mary saw a car go by. (it is understood to be Mary who was looking out of the window)

We peeled the apples while waiting for the water to boil.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uses_of_English_verb_forms#Present_participle

You can find plenty of discussion on the topic, and sources for supporting either view, online via a search for 'adverbial participle clause'.

I hope that's useful to you and helps to clarify our description. Please remember that these pages are designed for the use of language learners rather than linguists, and so the focus is on clarity and ease of use, not deep explanation and academic debate. That is not to say we do not strive for accuracy, of course, and the information on the pages is certainly accurate.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter,

Thanks very much for your help.

Regards.

im having alot of fun learning

Hello there!

Could you kindly clarify a query on participle clauses?

The sentence "The cast chosen , they could start the rehearsals" means "Once the cast had been chosen, they could start the rehearsals" .
The question: Would "The cast chosen, they will be able to start the rehearsals" work for "Once the cast has been chosen, they will be able to start the rehearsals"?

Thank you very much in advance.
Oleg

Hello Oleg,

Yes, that's correct. The time reference of the first part is dependent on the second part, rather that having a fixed time reference itself.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,

That was of great help. Thank you very much indeed.

Warm wishes,
Oleg

Hi Team LearnEnglish,
1. "We watched the students jogging round the campus".
2. "We watched students jogging round the campus".

can we say first sentence to have got jogging as a participle?
And also that in second sentence jogging to be 'gerund' since determiner 'the' is not present?

If not,how can we distinguish jogging between these two sentences?.

Help please.

Regards,
Nandish BC.

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