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 learner2018,

You are correct: the clause beginning 'reducing...' shows the result of the main clause. A second result is given in a parallel clause ('...reducing...'), which is joined with the co-ordinating conjunction 'and'.

'Thus' is an adverb and does not change the structure of the sentence here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by learner2018 on Fri, 09/11/2018 - 18:37

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Dear Peter M, Good day! Thank you so much for your previous comments on some issues which I got confused about. However, I need your valuable comments on the following two sentences regarding the meaning of participle clauses: 1. Economists often criticize rent control, arguing that it is a highly inefficient way to help the poor raise the standard of living. What is the meaning of participle clause 'arguing that it is a highly inefficient way to help the poor raise the standard of living' in the above sentence? How could the sentence have been restructured by using a dependent clause instead of participle clause? 2. For low levels of quantity supplied, the elasticity of supply is high, indicating that firms respond substantially to changes in the price. What is the meaning of participle clause 'indicating that firms respond substantially to changes in the price'? How could the sentence have been restructured by using a dependent clause instead of participle clause?

Submitted by learner2018 on Fri, 09/11/2018 - 03:22

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Hello, Peter M & Kirk! Hope everything is going great at your end. I am seeking your valuable comments on the usage of 'by directly controlling the price' in the following sentence which I came across in my economics text. Each of these two groups (consumers and sellers) lobbies the government to pass laws that alter the market outcome by directly controlling the price of an ice-cream cone. Wouldn't be grammatically correct writing 'directly controlling the price of an ice-cream cone instead'? Would there be any difference in meaning, though grammatically correct? It would be highly appreciated from my end if you could provide some other examples of using by + verb+ ing and the reasons of using that structure.

Hello learner2018,

We use 'by + -ing' (by + object (gerund)) to show the method or technique by which something was done:

I made my fortune by investing in a tech company.

She scared the tiger away by sounding her car horn repeatedly.

 

Each of these two groups (consumers and sellers) lobbies the government to pass laws that alter the market outcome by directly controlling the price of an ice-cream cone.

Here, the meaning is clear: the method for altering the market outcome is the direct control of the price of an ice-cream cone.

 

Each of these two groups (consumers and sellers) lobbies the government to pass laws that alter the market outcome, directly controlling the price of an ice-cream cone.

Here, the meaning is different. The laws change the market outcome, and that results in the direct control of the.... In other words, by omitting 'by' we have changed the cause (method) into a result or co-occuring event.

 

This is quite common:

I answered, laughing. [I was laughing as I answered]

I answered by laughing. [The laugh was my answer]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SonuKumar on Tue, 06/11/2018 - 13:05

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Sir, My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a very capable proformer but a composer of no ordinary merit. My friend was an enthusiastic musician and he was not only a very capable proformer but a composer of no ordinary merit. I think these two sentences say the same thing don't they ?
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 07/11/2018 - 08:32

In reply to by SonuKumar

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Hi SonuKumar,

Yes, I understand the same thing, though the first one has an awkward structure -- the second one sounds much more natural. Please note that the word 'proformer' should be 'performer'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by learner2018 on Sun, 04/11/2018 - 17:20

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Hello, Peter M & Kirk! Good day! I have come across the sentence in a finance text: If management so desired, a firm could issue some bonds and use the proceeds to buy back some stock, thereby increasing the debt–equity ratio. I have two queries regarding the above sentence: 1. Is 'Increasing' a 'gerund' or a 'participle'? why? 2. Can I replace 'thereby increasing the debt–equity ratio' with 'which increases the debt–equity ratio'? What function does perform 'thereby' in the sentence? I would be grateful if you could give your valuable comments on it.

Hello learner2018,

The word 'thereby' is an adverb which means 'in this way' or 'through this'. Grammatically, you could use a relative clause (...which increases...) but it does change the meaning. The relative clause tells us the effect of the buy-back, whereas 'thereby' carries a suggestion of intention – it suggests that increasing the ratio was a goal, not just an incidental effect.

In this sentence, 'increasing' is a participle, not a gerund. It introduces a participle clause.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir, Thank you for valuable comments on this issue. Now, the meaning of 'thereby' in the sentence is clear to me. However, could you please give me a further clarification why you considered 'thereby increasing the debt–equity ratio' as a participle clause. What is the adjectival or adverbial role performed by the clause? Thanks in advance!
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 06/11/2018 - 06:27

In reply to by learner2018

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Hello learner2018,

Participle clauses are often used to show the effects (intended or accidental) of an action.

For example:

I spilt coffee on my laptop, ruining it completely. [When I spilt coffee on my laptop, I ruined it]

 

Your sentence works in the same way.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team