Participle clauses

Do you know how to use participle clauses to say information in a more economical way? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

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

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Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 11/04/2018 - 07:16

In reply to by Zhverb

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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

 

Peter

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'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Milhki on Thu, 22/03/2018 - 14:13

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

Submitted by Milhki on Tue, 20/03/2018 - 10:49

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Hello! Could you, please, help me with the structure in this sentence: "By restricting the ways the state can be changed - we reduce the chances bugs can appear". Is this sentence grammatically correct? Is the first part (by restricting the ways the state can be changed ) the nominative participle construction? if not, what is it? why does it have two different subjects? or is it missing the word "how" e.g "by restricting the ways how the state can be changed"? and is this part itself (by restricting the ways...we reduce the chances bugs can appear) the participle clause of manner? Is the punctuation correct? Thank you in advance for your attention, time and explanation.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 21/03/2018 - 07:33

In reply to by Milhki

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Hello Milhki,

'By' is a preposition and introduces a prepositional phrase. Prepositional phrases with 'by' show the method by which something is achieved. The prepositional phrase here is perhaps a little confusing because it is so long but we can simplify it easily enough and then it is clear that it is a straightforward prepositional phrase:

By restricting these, we reduce...

We reduce... by restricting these.

The prepositional phrase here has an adverbial function as it modifies the verb 'reduce'.

I would say that a comma is preferable to a dash in this sentence.

 

LearnEnglish is a site for people learning English as a means of communication rather than as a site for linguistic analysis. For questions like this you might find the relevant section of stackexchange helpful:

https://ell.stackexchange.com/

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kamran Saif Qureshi on Sun, 11/02/2018 - 03:36

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In my opinion, this answers the question "When did I grab the pizza?" It can be rephrased as "While returning from the office, ......"

Hello Kamran Saif Qureshi,

That is correct. The present participle shows an action which happened at the same time as another action, as you say. Well done.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kamran Saif Qureshi on Sun, 11/02/2018 - 03:34

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Sir, could you refer some books regarding the adverbial use of participle phrases / clauses like in "Returning from the office, I grabbed a pizza from Tahzeeb Bakers."

Hello Kamran Saif Qureshi

The British Council does not offer recommendations regarding books, I'm afraid. We do not favour or advertise any publishers or authors. My suggestion would be to go to a good bookshop and find three or four different grammar books. Open each to the page for participle clauses/phrases and compare the information there. You'll be able to see which is the most accessible and complete, and which would be the best for you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team