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Participle clauses

Do you know how to use participle clauses to say information in a more economical way?

Look at these examples to see how participle clauses are used.

Looked after carefully, these boots will last for many years.
Not wanting to hurt his feelings, I avoided the question. 
Having lived through difficult times together, they were very close friends.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1-B2: Participle clauses: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Participle clauses enable us to say information in a more economical way. They are formed using present participles (going, reading, seeing, walking, etc.), past participles (gone, read, seen, walked, etc.) or perfect participles (having gone, having read, having seen, having walked, etc.). 

We can use participle clauses when the participle and the verb in the main clause have the same subject. For example,

Waiting for Ellie, I made some tea. (While I was waiting for Ellie, I made some tea.)

Participle clauses do not have a specific tense. The tense is indicated by the verb in the main clause. 

Participle clauses are mainly used in written texts, particularly in a literary, academic or journalistic style. 

Present participle clauses

Here are some common ways we use present participle clauses. Note that present participles have a similar meaning to active verbs. 

  • To give the result of an action
    The bomb exploded, destroying the building.
  • To give the reason for an action
    Knowing she loved reading, Richard bought her a book.
  • To talk about an action that happened at the same time as another action
    Standing in the queue, I realised I didn't have any money.
  • To add information about the subject of the main clause
    Starting in the new year, the new policy bans cars in the city centre.

Past participle clauses

Here are some common ways that we use past participle clauses. Note that past participles normally have a passive meaning.

  • With a similar meaning to an if condition
    Used in this way, participles can make your writing more concise. (If you use participles in this way, … )
  • To give the reason for an action
    Worried by the news, she called the hospital.
  • To add information about the subject of the main clause
    Filled with pride, he walked towards the stage.

Perfect participle clauses

Perfect participle clauses show that the action they describe was finished before the action in the main clause. Perfect participles can be structured to make an active or passive meaning.

Having got dressed, he slowly went downstairs.
Having finished their training, they will be fully qualified doctors.
Having been made redundant, she started looking for a new job.

Participle clauses after conjunctions and prepositions

It is also common for participle clauses, especially with -ing, to follow conjunctions and prepositions such as before, after, instead of, on, since, when, while and in spite of.

Before cooking, you should wash your hands. 
Instead of complaining about it, they should try doing something positive.
On arriving at the hotel, he went to get changed.
While packing her things, she thought about the last two years.
In spite of having read the instructions twice, I still couldn’t understand how to use it.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar B1-B2: Participle clauses: 2

Language level

Upper intermediate: B2

Comments

Hello Kaisoo93,

We use 'dressed' with a passive meaning, so 'Sam who is dressing' or 'Dressing in a suit...' are not correct here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,
Thank you for your reply. I have further question.
From the lesson above:
"Shouting loudly, Peter walked home. [Peter was shouting]"
"Shouted at loudly, Peter walked home. [Someone was shouting at Peter]"
Why can't we apply participle the same way as 2 sentences above? Sam is dressed in... (passive voice) and Sam dress in ... (active voice)

Hello Kaisoo93,

The reason is that the verbs 'shout' and 'dress' operate in different ways in English.

We do not use the verb 'dress' actively to talk about the subject in modern English. Thus, a sentence using 'dress' must have a different object to the subject, or be used in a passive form so the subject can be omitted:

The servants dressed the king in his finest gown.

The king was dressed in his finest gown.

 

Alternatively, you can use a reflexive pronoun to create an object for the verb, though this is rather unusual and can sound rather archaic:

The king dressed himself in his finest gown.

 

Since the participle in a participle phrase must relate to the same subject as the main clause, we cannot use it with an active meaning.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Peter

Hello,

Is the participle phrase/modifier too far away from the noun 'paintings' in the following sentence:

Hanging at roof level all around the walls, with eight around the tower arch, the paintings are a unique feature of our church.

The sentence seems grammatically correct to me but I am not sure.

Does this make more sense: Hanging at roof level all around the walls, with eight around the tower arch, are the paintings, a unique feature of our church.

Maybe neither are correct?

Thanks

Hello MartaC,

The danger with having the participle too far from its referent is that the sentence may be ambiguous or confusing for the reader. I don't see any problem with your sentence. In fact, bring the participle phrase to the beginning like this is quite a common literary device to highlight certain details in the sentence.

Your second version is also correct, though it seems a less elegant structure to me. It's really a question of personal style and taste, though.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

"Once fires have started, other areas are at risk, with embers blown by the wind causing blazes to spread to new areas."
The word "causing" is a adjectival (reduced form of which causes) or adverbial? Thank you

Hello Kaisoo93,

I would say that the participle causing has an adjectival function here. It's hard to reformulate the sentence to create an adverbial clause (see here for a list of adverbial clause types).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,
Thank you for your reply.
If I don't use participle, are both sentences below correct?
1) Once fires have started, other areas are at risk, with embers blown by the wind and cause blazes to spread to new areas.
2) Once fires have started, other areas are at risk, with embers blown by the wind which cause blazes to spread to new areas.

Hello Kaisoo93,

The first sentence is not correct as the verb 'cause' lacks an appropriate subject.

The second sentence is fine. The verb (cause) is plural, so it is clear that the relative pronoun refers back to embers rather than to wind.

 

The original sentence (with causing) is by far the best choice in terms of style, clarity and elegance.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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