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 lexeus on Thu, 12/09/2019 - 05:36

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Hi Team Could you tell me if the following sentence is correct? He spotted Karen sitting with a middle-aged western guy who didn't appear to be showing any interest in her. Given that the sentence starts in past tense 'He spotted...' I'm not sure whether the part that reads '... appear to be showing any interest in her' should be past tense, as the verb 'appear' in this sentence is present tense. Thanks for your help, lexeus
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 12/09/2019 - 07:35

In reply to by lexeus

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Hi lexeus,

The sentence is fine. The verb 'appear' is part of a negative past tense form: 'didn't appear'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by giangphan on Tue, 20/08/2019 - 18:31

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Hi, There was a downward fluctuation in the amount of acid rain, followed by a steady decline. Is "followed by a steady decline" a past participle clause? If yes, what is the common subject of main clause and the past participle clause? Thanks
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 27/08/2019 - 07:12

In reply to by giangphan

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Hi giangphan,

The clause here is a reduced relative clause:

...of acid rain, (which was) followed by...

The clause does not reference the noun 'acid rain', but rather the whole phrase 'a downward fluctuation in the amoun of acid rain'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Leen on Fri, 16/08/2019 - 10:28

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Hi, Is present participle used when both actions are happening at the same time? Does the the above e.g., 'Shouting loudly, Peter walked home.' mean 'While Peter was walking home, he was shouting loudly.'? For the following, do 2. and 3. have the same meaning as 1.? 1. Although I worked hard, I failed my test. 2. Despite working hard, I failed my test. 3. Despite having worked hard, I failed my test. Since 'working hard' is the first past action, am I right to say that using 'having' is thus optional/redundant in a sentence that has 'despite' in it? Thank you.

Submitted by Leen on Thu, 05/09/2019 - 02:43

In reply to by Leen

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Hi, I would appreciate it if someone could help.
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 05/09/2019 - 07:22

In reply to by Leen

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Hello Leen

Often the two actions do occur simultaneously, and in general this is probably the first assumption to make, but that is not always necessarily the case. The participle form in itself doesn't specify the timing -- it's the context that makes the timing clear (or in some cases ambiguous). In the example you cite from this page, it makes sense that the walking and the shouting occurred simultaneously and that's how I and I'm sure most people would understand the sentence.

Yes, 2 and 3 mean the same as 1, and yes, 'having' is optional in 3 because the context already makes it clear that the working occurred before the test. But there is nothing wrong with using 'having' here; if you wanted to be very precise, for example, in formal writing, that would be a better option. In informal speaking, however, it would sound more natural to say 2 instead of 3.

Sorry that we missed responding when you posted your first comment!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sam61 on Mon, 17/06/2019 - 17:58

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Hi, Having seen it all his life, he knows every aspect of it. Having lived there all his life, he knows everything about the place. Does the participle clauses mean that he still sees it and lives there? should I use "knew" instead than "knows"?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 18/06/2019 - 06:49

In reply to by sam61

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Hi sam61,

The action described in the participle clause does not have to be ongoing. It simply has to have a present effect.

For example:

Having been married most of his life, he can give some good advice.

In this sentence the person may be still married now, but may equally be divorced or widowed. What is important is that he has the experience and knowledge which allows him to give good advice.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team