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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Hello aseel aftab,

There is no difference in meaning between these two sentences. In this and many cases, the participle clause is simply a more economic (i.e. shorter) way of expressing an idea, which is generally preferable in both writing and speaking (though this sounds like a written text). Sometimes people avoid using shorter forms to ensure clarity, but I'd probably use the first version if I were writing it myself, as it seems clear enough.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user V Stallone

Submitted by V Stallone on Wed, 10/10/2018 - 02:26

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Hello there! I’ve got a question around this topic. I was teaching a group of EFL students when an example stopped us and made us discuss about it. Here it is: The store has proved to be a breath of fresh air in a world driven by digital media. Rules concerning Past Participle Clauses say that the Participle and the verb in the main clause have the same subject. But we saw ‘the store’ as the subject of the main clause and ‘world’ as the subject of the participle clause. Could you help me with this idea of having the same subject in these example? I appreciate. Best, Viviane.

Hello vstallone,

The clause driven by digital media is actually a reduced relative clause rather than a participle clause. We can see this if we write the sentence in full:

The store has proved to be a breath of fresh air in a world which is driven by digital media.

 

The relative clause here has an adjectival function, describing the noun 'world' rather than referring to the main clause. It is different from a participle clause.

Compare this with the participle clause in the sentence I just wrote (describing the noun 'world'). That participle clause does not describe the noun ('function') but rather refers to the subject of the main clause ('the relative clause') and provides further information about that.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Peter M, Thanks for the answer. I couldn't imagine I'd get a faster reply. Thanks a million. I see your point and understood all details. When you say 'compare this with the participle clause in the sentence I just wrote', the full version of it. I got the idea that the Participle Clause describes the subject of the main clause 'The store'. Right? But, don't you think it's ambiguous? The store has proved to be a breath of fresh air in a world which is driven by digital media. Students may say that 'world' is driven by the digital media, not 'the store'. This discussion is around one of the examples of the Grammar Box we had last lesson. I really agree with students that this sentence does not follow the rule presented (the same subject for main clause and participle clause) and also agree with you about how things changed when we write the sentence in full. I'll be with them again tomorrow evening and I'm clarifying this point. Definitely, that's not a good example to talk about Participle Clauses. Thank you, Peter. Regards, Viviane Stallone. Rio de Janeiro - BRA

Hello again Viviane,

The reduced relative clause here does describe 'a world' rather than 'the store'.

When the sentence has two possible referees for the relative clause there is a possibilty of ambiguity, as you say. Usually the context makes it clear, but where more than one possibility exists it is conventional to place the relative clause immediately after the noun which it describes. For example:

The shop sold the painting, (which was) owned by an old Scottish family.

The relative clause could be describing the shop or the painting, but we assume that it refers to the painting because of its position.

 

In your example, however, there is no ambiguity. The indefinite article before 'world' makes the relative clause necessary. This is because without any other infomation we would say 'in the world'. When we say 'in a world' we are making it clear that we are describing one of many conceivable worlds.

 

When I said 'compare this with with the participle clause in the sentence I just wrote', I meant the sentence immediately before, which was this sentence:

The relative clause here has an adjectival function, describing the noun 'world' rather than referring to the main clause.

Here, the participle clause 'describing...' refers not to the noun 'function' but to the noun phrase 'The relative clause'. We can see this if we write the sentence out explicitly:

The relative clause here has an adjectival function. The relative clause is describing the noun 'world' rather than referring to the main clause.

not

The relative clause here has an adjectival function. The function is describing the noun 'world' rather than referring to the main clause.

 

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lolipopstar93 on Sat, 06/10/2018 - 06:25

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Hello everyone, Can someone explain to me why the verb-ing form is used in the following sentences “So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn't get in, and walk through it, step by step.” These are the lines in the book “Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami. I greatly appreciate all the help. Thank you.

Hello Lolipopstar93,

This is an example of a participle clause or participle phrase (different terms are used). Here, it describes actions (closing and plugging) which happen at the same time as other actions (step inside).

You can read more about participle clauses on this page.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, Thank you so much for the quick reply. As you mentioned above, participle clause is used to describe actions that happen at the same time as other actions, so i’m just wondering whether the aforementioned sentences can be rewritten as followed: “So all you can do is give in to it, stepping right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn't get in, and walking through it, step by step.” The reason I rewrote it like this is because all the actions ( step inside, close the eyes, plug up the ears and walk through it) happens at the same time and help to add more information to the main clause ( so all you can do is give in to it). Is this correct?. Thank you in advance. Regards, Lolipopstar93
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 07/10/2018 - 07:42

In reply to by Lolipopstar93

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Hi Lolipopstar93,

Yes, you could write the sentence like that. It changes the meaning slightly, however.

If you use 'give in... walk thorough' then you are providing two sequential actions. In other words, you are saying 'first give in (doing this and this) and after that walk through'. If you say 'give in... walking though' then you have one action ('give in') which everything else is just a part of.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by monarchy110 on Tue, 18/09/2018 - 19:33

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Hello there. How many tenses are there in English ?? 12 or 16?? why "future in past" and its sub-forms are not counted??