Do you know how to start a clause with a present participle (e.g. seeing) or past participle (e.g. seen)?

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, result, reason or time. For example:


CONDITION (with a similar meaning to 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.


RESULT (with a similar meaning to so or therefore):

The bomb exploded, destroying the building.

Compare: The bomb exploded so the building was destroyed.


REASON (with a similar meaning to because or since):

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 (with a similar meaning to 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.

Language level

Upper intermediate: B2


Hello eliskh,

That's correct -- this section only have explanations, but no exercises. Most of our English Grammar pages do have exercises.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, I ducked into an arched doorway heading for the subway.
In this sentence, does present participle 'Heading' refer to the doorway or the subject of the sentence 'I' ?

I think it refers to the doorway because it's after it.

Hi SonuKumar,

Although its position after 'doorway' suggests that 'heading' tells us about the doorway, here it refers to the subject because doorways don't move, whereas people do. If the sentence were something like 'I ran into Priya going home', it could be that I was going home or it could be that Priya was -- in this case, both subject and object of 'ran into' are people so that is possible.

To make it clear, you could say 'Going home, I ran into Priya', though the truth is, people more often say something like 'I ran into Priya when I was going home' or 'I ran into Priya when she was going home'.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

I ran into priya going home.
This sentence suggests that I ran into priya when she was going to home but if I put a comma in this sentence like this (I ran into priya, going home) does it now mean (going home, I ran into priya) ? does seprating present participle from the noun 'priya' by putting a comma there change the meaning of the sentence or not ? does comma make a difference here ?

Hello SonuKumar,

The sentence is ambiguous grammatically as the participle phrase could refer to either noun. In this case the context may provide the first clue. Failing that, the word order is important: if we place the participle phrase after Priya then we understand that Priya is the person who was going home; if we place it before 'I' (and the comma is needed in this cae) then we understand that it refers to 'I'.



The LearnEnglish Team

What kinds of relative clause can be reduced? Can "the events that led to the American Civil War" be reduced to "the events leading to the American Civil War"? I saw a post saying that if the action is finished and not repeated, it can not be reduced. Is it right? I know all the passive relative clause can be reduced. For example, the man killed (reduced from who was killed) in the accident was a homeless person. But how about the relative clause with an active tone?

Hi Zhverb,

As the information on the page above says, we use past participles to express a passive meaning and present participles to express an active meaning.

I have no idea which post you are referring to and we don't comment on information from other sites but I have never heard of any kind of rule like that. In fact, your example about the American Civil War is perfectly fine as an example of a present participle with an active meaning and demonstrates that finished non-repeated actions can be reduced. You could change 'the events' to 'the event' or 'the decision' and the sentence would be perfectly fine.


Your second example can be written using either form:

the man who was killed in the accident > the man killed in the accident

the accident which killed the man > the accident killing the man



The LearnEnglish Team

Many thanks Peter! Can the sentence "He is chasing the boy who broke his window" be reduced to " He is chasing the boy breaking his window" ?

Hello Zhverb,

No, that would not be correct. The time reference of the participle is the same as the verb in the main clause, so if the verb in the main clause has a present time reference (is chasing) then the participle would also refer to the present. Thus this sentence would mean 'He is chasing the boy who is breaking the window'.

The sentence would also suggest that the actions are simulaltaneous - that the boy is breaking the window while he is being chased. This would be true even if the verb was a past form. Thus 'He was chasing the boy breaking the window' would mean that the action occurred in the past, but that the actions were simulataneous - i.e. 'He was chasing the boy who was breaking the window'.



The LearnEnglish Team

thank you, Peter M, for your reply and the link!