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)

Hello Kaisoo93,

The sentence is ambiguous. It could mean that the man is breaking the window as he chases the boy, or that the boy is breaking the window while he is being chased. Either way, the suggestion is that the breaking and the chasing are simultaneous. Obviously, the context would suggest something else, but that is what the grammatical structure implies. That is why the most likely form would be '...who broke...', which avoids these issues.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rama Tb on Fri, 21/08/2020 - 17:26

Hello Mr. I have a question about a sentence. -Filled with pride, he walked towards the stage. The full structure for this sentence is. He walked towards the stage, and he filled with pride.( here the veb is active) Or -He walked towards the stage, and he was filled with pride( here it is adjective ) My question is, why is this sentence a passive?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 22/08/2020 - 08:55

In reply to by Rama Tb


Hello Rama Tb,

The form is not passive in form. It has a passive meaning, which is not the same thing. The form is a past participle (filled) and participle are examples of nonfinite verb forms, meaning they lack tense, mood and voice.


The subject of the main clause (He) is not performing the action. He does not fill anything; he is filled. That is why we say it has a passive meaning. By contrast, present participles have an active meaning. For example:

He walked towards the stage, filling his mother with pride.

Here, he is filling his mother with pride, not being filled with pride.



The LearnEnglish Team

So you mean with adjectives that give passive meaning in participle clauses we yes past participle, and with adjectives that give active meaning we use present participle in participle clause. Did l understand it right?

Hello again Reemtb,

Past participles in these clauses often have a passive meaning and present participles often have an active meaning. I wouldn't focus on adjecctives, to be honest, as it's the meaning which matters, not whether or not a given word is an adjective or a verb. In your example, filled is a passive verb form, in my opinion, rather than an adjective.



The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Fri, 21/08/2020 - 14:21

Having finished their training, they will be fully qualified teachers. ;)

Submitted by gramgal on Thu, 20/08/2020 - 17:51

Hi there!! quick question on a Subjunctive and participle question. Working on this phrase "wish you were here listening to watermelon sugar at your friends annual pool party, while their dog barks at happily passing squirrels." Does "barks" also need to be past tense? Looking forward to your grammar guidance! Thank you so much

Hi gramgal,

The present is fine here as you are talking about a present situation. The hypothetical part of the sentence is that your friend is not 'here'; the rest of the sentence describes a real present as it is written.

There are some other things to correct in the sentence: it should be friend's or friends' rather than the form without an apostrophe.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maxim on Thu, 20/08/2020 - 09:42

For example i have a sentence: "I saw a girl walking through the park". Who was walking through the park? Me? /When I was walking through the park I saw a girl/ Or a girl? /I saw a girl who was walking through the park/ How to emphasize WHO was doing action?