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

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Submitted by alsayed on Wed, 04/03/2020 - 14:21

Reading the paper,he saw the news about his homtetown. You chose reading because it is a reason of seeing the news . But I guess it may be perfect participle . He has read his paper ,after that he saw the news on tv .what do you think ? Thanks .

Hello alsayed

I wouldn't say that participle clause expresses reason, but rather that he saw the new while reading the paper (two actions at the same time). It could also possibly explain how he saw the news.

Because 'reading' ends in '-ing', it is a present participle, not a perfect participle.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bharati on Sun, 23/02/2020 - 03:33

Hello Peter, Why do we confuse the definitions. By calling Participle clause, you mean participle phrase. Similarly reduced relative clause is adjective phrase. Clauses are only three types-Noun, Adjective and Adverb. So why have new classes of clause? Thank

Hello Bharati,

I can't say why this is the case, I'm afraid. Language descriptions grow and evolve over time, and fashion comes and goes in linguistics as in everything else. All I can tell you is that both names are used for the structure. For example, this article on the topic by Richard Nordquist uses both terms and does not attempt to distinguish between them:



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ire on Sat, 22/02/2020 - 05:20

hi , I would like to ask the following question. He stood on the back,holding on to his shoulders. He lunged for the telephone,lifting the receiver quickly. the participle clauses 'holding on to his shoulders. ' and ' lifting the receiver quickly' for which complete clauses did these two participle clauses come from?Thank you!
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sat, 22/02/2020 - 08:26

In reply to by Ire


Hello Ire

I suppose the second one was something like 'He lunged for the phone and quickly lifted the receiver.'

I'm not sure I understand the first one -- perhaps something like 'He stood on the back while holding on'.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bharati on Sat, 22/02/2020 - 04:23

Shouldn't these be called Participle phrase rather than participle clause as by definition a clause has a subject and finite verb in it

Submitted by Jamil on Mon, 17/02/2020 - 14:07

Hi Some languages use a term transliterated in English as "relative participle" Is there any such term in English grammar? Thank you
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 18/02/2020 - 07:00

In reply to by Jamil


Hi Jamil,

This is not a term we use. You can find participles in reduced relative clauses, however.



The LearnEnglish Team