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)

Submitted by John Mccan on Tue, 26/11/2019 - 11:46

In reply to by John Mccan

hi, can someone please answer these.

Hello John Mccan

Re: 1, I'd say that 'walking' in 'a walking stick' is a gerund, i.e. 'walking stick' is a compound noun or noun + noun construction where the first noun has an adjectival function. I suppose you could also argue that 'walking' is an adjective, but 'walking stick' is such a common collocation that I see it more as a noun with an adjectival function.

Re: 2, 'boring' is an adjective. There are many adjectives that can be followed by infinitives -- please see the Adjectives with to-infinitives section on our Infinitives page.

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All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sumanasc on Sat, 23/11/2019 - 08:27

Sir, I am confused with this adverb clause. I saw this as an example of an adverb clause. But it does not start with a.conjuntion. Please confirm whether it is an adverb clause and the reason. Jeff stared at the animal with his widely opened eyes
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Mon, 25/11/2019 - 06:32

In reply to by sumanasc


Hello sumanasc

I'd suggest you have a look at the Adverbials section of our Grammar reference. As you can see there, a prepositional phrase (such as 'with his eyes wide open') is a kind of adverbial.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sumanasc on Sat, 23/11/2019 - 05:45

Hi Sir Please tell whether the following sentence is correct as an adverb clause: The ships returned to the harbour which took a long time in sea.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 24/11/2019 - 08:22

In reply to by sumanasc


Hello sumanasc,

The sentence is not correct. I'm not entirely sure what you are trying to say, and there are several issues with word selection, but in terms of grammar you have a relative (adjective) clause beginning with 'which' and this clause describes the noun preceding it. In other words, in your sentence it is 'the harbour' which has taken a long time at sea.

Perhaps you mean this:

The ships returned to the harbour after a long time at sea.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kali12 on Tue, 12/11/2019 - 06:08

Hello, In a book review, my student has written: "Carmen tries to persuade Jack to kill her husband, but strongly refusing, he decides to leave". I have corrected this to ..."but he strongly refuses and decides to leave". My student's sentence is wrong, but I am struggling to explain why. "Strongly refusing" I'd say is wrong because the -ing form is used for simultaneous actions, but even if I were to correct this to "...but having strongly refused, he decides to leave." still sounds strange. Any thoughts greatly appreciated!
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 12/11/2019 - 07:50

In reply to by Kali12


Hello Kali12,

The actions here are simply a sequence. A participle clause would imply either that they happen simultaneously, as you say, which is not the case, or that there is some kind of link between them, such as one action causing the other or one action only being possible after another. In this case, your correction is the best option.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kali12 on Tue, 12/11/2019 - 05:52

Hi...excellent answers participle clause questions. My student wrote the was a book review: "He inevitably runs into danger, having to fight to stay alive". This doesn't sound good to me. I would say..."and has to fight to stay alive". But I can't for the life of me think why. The actions are closely related, causal, closely related, but it sounds strange. Any comments greatly appreciated!

Hi Kali12,

There is a problem with the sentence, but it is not grammatical. The participle clause here would explain the reason for an action. In other words, it would tell us why he runs into danger. Thus, the sentence can be expressed like this:

He runs into danger because he has to fight to stay alive.

This seems to me to get the cause-effect relationship backwards. It is not, I imagine, that he runs into danger because he has to fight to stay alive, but rather than he has to fight to stay alive because he runs into danger.

The best way to express the idea would be with a simple conjunction, as you suggest:

He inevitably runs into danger, and has to fight to stay alive.



The LearnEnglish Team