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 MartaC on Fri, 17/01/2020 - 08:53

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Hello, Is the participle phrase/modifier too far away from the noun 'paintings' in the following sentence: Hanging at roof level all around the walls, with eight around the tower arch, the paintings are a unique feature of our church. The sentence seems grammatically correct to me but I am not sure. Does this make more sense: Hanging at roof level all around the walls, with eight around the tower arch, are the paintings, a unique feature of our church. Maybe neither are correct? Thanks
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 18/01/2020 - 08:21

In reply to by MartaC

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Hello MartaC,

The danger with having the participle too far from its referent is that the sentence may be ambiguous or confusing for the reader. I don't see any problem with your sentence. In fact, bring the participle phrase to the beginning like this is quite a common literary device to highlight certain details in the sentence.

Your second version is also correct, though it seems a less elegant structure to me. It's really a question of personal style and taste, though.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kaisoo93 on Mon, 13/01/2020 - 15:10

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"Once fires have started, other areas are at risk, with embers blown by the wind causing blazes to spread to new areas." The word "causing" is a adjectival (reduced form of which causes) or adverbial? Thank you

Hello Kaisoo93,

I would say that the participle causing has an adjectival function here. It's hard to reformulate the sentence to create an adverbial clause (see here for a list of adverbial clause types).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter, Thank you for your reply. If I don't use participle, are both sentences below correct? 1) Once fires have started, other areas are at risk, with embers blown by the wind and cause blazes to spread to new areas. 2) Once fires have started, other areas are at risk, with embers blown by the wind which cause blazes to spread to new areas.

Hello Kaisoo93,

The first sentence is not correct as the verb 'cause' lacks an appropriate subject.

The second sentence is fine. The verb (cause) is plural, so it is clear that the relative pronoun refers back to embers rather than to wind.

 

The original sentence (with causing) is by far the best choice in terms of style, clarity and elegance.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter, Why can't we consider 'embers' as the subject for 'cause' for the first sentence? Thank you.

Hello Kaisoo93,

The sentence structure does not hold together in that way. The sentence 'with', everything describes the object (of the preposition) 'embers'; you cannot change that object into a subject for a new verb without starting a new sentence:

Once fires have started, other areas are at risk. Embers blown by the wind cause blazes to spread to new areas.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by John Mccan on Thu, 02/01/2020 - 21:52

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Hello Two questions 1. We don't use Possessives with such verbs to show its a gerund, so when ing word follows does it represent gerund or present participle as adjective. I saw him singing (participle as adjective defining him who is singing or as gerund defining the process of singing) Or both, just the way we look at it 2. Ing word following verbs generally act as gerund ( verbs object) But if it follows an infinitive would.it be a participle or gerund. Let's get (infinitive) moving(gerund or participle) Also can participle-ing(adjective) follow a verb? Like --Complete working (this is gerund) right? Thanks
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 03/01/2020 - 08:16

In reply to by John Mccan

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Hello John Mccan,

In both examples, I would say that the -ing form is a participle.

 

In the first example, 'singing' is a participle with an adjectival function. It describes the pronoun 'him'. The way the sentence is constructed tells us this, as the object is the pronoun. In other words, you hear the person who is singing, not the singing which belongs to the person. In the latter case, you would say 'I heard his singing'.

 

In the second example, the construction is get + participle. You can use present and past participles in this construction, where present participles have an active meaning and past participles have a passive meaning. The verb 'get' here has a meaning between 'start' and 'become', depending on the context:

Let's get going. [active meaning, get going = start moving]

Let's get cooking. [active meaning, get cooking = start cooking]

Let's get dressed. [passive meaning, get dressed = become dressed]

 

As an aside, the participle/gerund distinction is really a false one in English, and is a relict of a neo-classical view of English which imposed Latin forms and terms on it in an inappropriate way. Modern English views of grammar prefer the term -ing form, which avoids trying to create two items from one. Instead, we treat the -ing form as a single item with a range of uses.

You can find a nice summary of this on this page:

https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/participles-and-gerunds

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team