Participle clauses

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

Language level

Average: 4.2 (81 votes)

Submitted by ifencing on Tue, 15/05/2018 - 18:17

Hello. Can you tell me if the sentenses are correct? Closing my eyes, I felt fresh air. Closing my eyes, I feel fresh air. Closing my eyes, I will feel fresh air. I changed the tense in the main clause. Does it sound normal? Thanks in advance

Hello ifencing,

Yes, all of those are grammatically correct. The participle is a non-finite verb form and has no time reference of its own. It takes its time reference from the verb in the main clause.

Obviously, whether or not the sentence makes sense will depend upon the context in which it is used.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SonuKumar on Fri, 13/04/2018 - 09:09

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

Submitted by Zhverb on Tue, 10/04/2018 - 08:38

Hi, 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?
Profile picture for user Peter M.

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

In reply to by Zhverb


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

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

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