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)
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Fri, 24/05/2019 - 06:36

In reply to by hamid2231

Hello hamid2231 'Looked' is the correct form in the first sentence because in relation to the subject of the main clause ('this coat'), it has a passive meaning, i.e. 'if this coat is looked after carefully'. You could use gerunds here ('Looking after the coat carefully will result in it keeping you warm through many winters'), but it would no longer be a participle clause since the two '-ing' forms acting as nouns. 'destroying' is correct in the second example because in relation to the subject of the main clause ('The bomb'), it has an active meaning. 'The bomb exploded and destroyed the building' might be a more helpful way of thinking about it. Does that make sense? All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sam61 on Mon, 13/05/2019 - 15:11

Hi, Do the participle clauses for result and reason need a comma to introduce them every time like the ones shown in the examples.
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Tue, 14/05/2019 - 09:27

In reply to by sam61

Hello sam61 Yes, they normally need a comma. Clauses that explain reasons are also commonly written with the reason clause first, and in this case they also have a comma. For example in 'Having spent so long doing my homework, I had no time to read my book', the comma is also used. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hudi on Tue, 07/05/2019 - 00:48

Hello Britishcouncil English team. I have three sentences, 1. Tomorrow, I will be reading this book lying on my stomach. 2. Tomorrow, I will be reading this book and I will be lying on my stomach. 3. Tomorrow, I will be reading this book while lying on my stomach. Do they all have the same meaning ? And what subject should I read related to the form of the first sentence ? Because I want to be able to write sentences like the form of the first sentence.
Hello Hudi, The first and third sentences have similar meanings, showing actions happening simultaneously. The second sentence could have this meaning but it could also show sequential actions (first... second...) ~ The first sentence is an example of a participle clause, so you are on the right page already. You might also find these pages helpful: ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Thank you very much Peter, it is very clear now. And also thank you for these sources you gave me.
Profile picture for user AminulIslam.

Submitted by AminulIslam. on Fri, 26/04/2019 - 06:45

Dear sir, I have learned that a present participle is follwed by a be verb. but a action verb also follows be verb to form continuous. Two examples... 1.I am sitting in front of the building. 2.I am eating rice. In the first sentence, does sitting act as an adjective or verb? how can I differentiate?
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 26/04/2019 - 08:07

In reply to by AminulIslam.

Hello AminulIslam. Both of your examples describe activities taking place at the time of speaking rather than characteristics of the person ('I'), so the forms are present continuous. ~ Present participles have a variety of functions. They can function as nouns (gerunds), as part of progressive verb forms and as adjectives. The form itself does not change, so only by analysing the use in the sentence can we identify the particular function in a given example. For example: > I am sitting in front of the building - an activity in progress, so a progressive verb form > I walked up to the sitting man - a characteristic of the noun, so an adjective > Sitting for a long time can cause back problems - the subject of the sentence, so a gerund ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Thanks sir... sir I want to mention another sentence... 1.Education is enlightening. Here 'enlightening' is participle as adjective?
Hello AminulIslam. I would say that in this sentence 'enlightening' is an adjective. The verb 'enlighten' is usually a transitive verb so I would expect it to have an object. ~ I would not worry too much about identifying whether a particular present participle is functioning as an adjective or a verb, to be honest. It is often unclear (both are possibilities) and it does not seem to me that the knowledge will help you to use English better in any case. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team