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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Submitted by Helen31 on Mon, 21/05/2018 - 19:21

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Hello! Could you provide any references on perfect participles and sentence structure? We have been taught that a perfect participle is always followed by an object? I haven't found any relevant source with this info yet. Thanks in advance!

Hello Helen31,

A perfect participle is formed with [having + past participle]: having slept, having eaten, having spoken. It indicates an action which was completed in the past.

You can form perfect participles with transitive verbs (with an object) or intransitive verbs (without an object), so an object is not always required. For example:

Having risen early, I had a long wait for the train. [no object]

Having asked my questions, I left the room.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ifencing on Tue, 15/05/2018 - 20:42

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Hello again. This is very hard to understand Participle Clause. I wrote some sentenses that give information about time, result and etc. Could you check them, please? Condition Went to Paris tomorrow, you will attend the meeting. If you go to Paris tomorrow, you will attend the meeting. Reason Wanting to go away, he left the concert. He wanted to go away so he left the concert. Result It being late, he bolted the windows. Because it’s late, he bolted the windows. Time Singing the song, the doorbell rang. When I was singing the song, the doorbell rang. Thanks in advance. And could you explain about the subject in the participle clause? Can we use it ot not?

Hello ifencing,

There are some problems with the sentences:

 

Condition
Went to Paris tomorrow, you will attend the meeting.
If you go to Paris tomorrow, you will attend the meeting.

The problem here is that you are trying to use 'went' as a passive form, just as 'Look after carefully' in the example is a passive form. However, the verb 'go' does not have a passive form because it is an intransitive verb.

The use of participles for conditions is quite unusual. The meaning is 'provided that...' or 'in the case that...' and establishes a requirement for the result, rather than describing possibility.

 

Reason
Wanting to go away, he left the concert.
He wanted to go away so he left the concert.

Grammatically, this is fine. However, it is rather trivial and repetitive. Leaving is the same as going away, so there is no real reason provided here. The participle should tell us something rather than simply repeat the information in the main clause. For example, you could say Wanting to be alone, ...

 

Result
It being late, he bolted the windows.
Because it’s late, he bolted the windows.

This is fine.

 

Time

Singing the song, the doorbell rang.
When I was singing the song, the doorbell rang.

This sentence is incorrect. Remember that the actor is the same for both parts of the sentence, so your sentence suggests that the doorbell was singing the song. The sentence could read Singing the song, I heard the doorbell.

 

Please note that we generally do not provide this kind of extended feedback. We're happy to answer questions about our material and about English in general but we have many thousands of users and are a small team, so providing comments on lists of sentences is not generally possible for us, unfortunately.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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?