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 Suhana on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 16:14

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Hello teachers, I came across the following sentence in one of the text books. Please tell me why the present participle is used instead of past participle. Being occupied with important matters, he had no leisure to see us. Can we convert this to: Occupied with important matters, he had no leisure to see us. If both are correct, then why the present participle is preferred over the past participle.

Hello Suhana,

Both forms (being occupied and occupied) are possible here and there is no difference in meaning in this context.

Being + past participle is a continuous passive form. In some contexts it can be used to emphasise that a situation or state was temporary or in progress, like all continuous forms.

 

You can use being + adjective. For example;

Being happy with my work, she agreed to give me a raise.

Since some adjectives have the same form as past participles, there is a potential ambiguity here. Your example could be interpreted in this way if we see occupied as an adjective rather than a verb form.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Reemtb on Wed, 02/09/2020 - 20:46

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Hello, Mr. I have a question. -Used in this way, participles can make your writing more concise. The full structure of this sentence is. (If you use participles in this way, … ) My question is, why did you use it in past participle although it is active in the full structure and the subject is different in the first part of sentence from the subject in the second part of the sentence?

Hello Reemtb,

The passive turns the object into the subject of the verb:

If you use participles in this way... > the subject is 'you'

If participles are used in this way... > the subject is 'participles'

Thus, when the passive is used the subject is the same in both clauses, allowing a participle clause to be used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lucas_xpp on Wed, 02/09/2020 - 17:55

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It rained for two weeks on end, completely ruining our holiday - How about ",...which completely ruined..."? The team won the championship, shocking their opponents. - How about ", which shocked...."? I had no time to read my book, having spent so long doing my homework - How about "Having spent so long doing my homework, I had no time to read my book." Thanks English Team.

Hello Lucas_xpp,

All of those alternatives are possible. They do not change the meaning in each case, so the choice is one of style and emphasis.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kapil Kabir on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 04:12

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Hello sir, I have a doubt regarding the use of ' not....... but' pair. I'm opposed to the plan of action not because it is ill conceived but that it seems impractical. In the sentence above, the correction is, use but instead of not, I wanna know that why but is used instead of not, Despite 'not.......but'pair being correct. Please clarify sir. :)
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 07:20

In reply to by Kapil Kabir

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Hello Kapil Kabir,

You need to have clauses which match in form, so if the first clause includes ...not because... then the second clause needs to include ...but because...::

I'm opposed to the plan of action not because it is ill conceived but because it seems impractical.

 

If the first clause contained ...not that... then the second clause would contain ...but that...:

I did not promise that I would agree, but only that I would consider your offer.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team