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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Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 28/11/2020 - 08:30

In reply to by Sz.Kata

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Hello Sz.Kata,

The sentence looks fine to me apart from the comma after 'technology'. The last clause (beginning with 'which') is a defining relative clause and so should have no comma before it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Rafaela1

Submitted by Rafaela1 on Sun, 22/11/2020 - 12:51

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Forgetting grammar as time goes, I found this site very useful. Is this sentence correct??

Hi Rafaela,

I think I understand what you mean, but it sounds a little unnatural to me. I'd recommend something like 'Being someone who forgets grammar as time passes ...'

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank Kirk, That's exactly what I wanted to say. Being someone who forgets who I am as time passes, I think this site is helpful! ;)

Submitted by aria rousta on Sat, 21/11/2020 - 21:25

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Dear Sir Although in the above context mentioned that participle cluase get no tenses and its tense should be realize from main cluase, but it confuses me. For example please consider this sentence, # the man who had stolen the king's crown, was sent to jail.#, so if we want to reduce it how we should do it. Is this sentence correct,# the man stealing the king's crown ... or we should say,# having stolen the king's crown, the man was sent to jail. Pls guide me. Also in my last sentece how we can recognise the used participle have adjectival role or adverbial.
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 22/11/2020 - 08:56

In reply to by aria rousta

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Hello aria rousta,

There's a couple of things to unpack here. First of all, a reduced relative clause is not a participle clause; it remains a relative clause or, to use an alternative term, an adjectival clause. As this name implies, relative clauses have an adjectival function, while participle clauses have an adverbial function, as described on the page above. Relative clauses follow the noun which they describe; participle clauses are more flexible in their positioning.

 

In your example the correct reduction is this:

The man stealing the king's crown was sent to jail.

Here, 'stealing...' has an adjectival function (as it is a relative clause).

 

Having stolen could be used in a participle clause if we want to make it clear that the second act (going to jail) followed the first, and that there was a link between them. As you say, the participles in participle clauses have no time reference of their own but take one from the main verb or the context, so we can use having stolen with a future meaning, for example:

Having stolen the crown, he will be sent to jail.

The speaker here may be imagining or predicting a theft in the future and explaining what the consequences will be.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much sir, your explanation helped me a lot to undrestand the differences of relative cluase and participle cluase. I thought these two are same. Thank you again sir

Submitted by Esmail Emon on Sun, 15/11/2020 - 11:17

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1.Destroying the building,the bobm exploded Here is it mean result? 2.he was in the kitchen.he was making coffee=he was in the kitchen making coffe? 3.Starting in the new year, the new policy bans cars in the city centre. Here why its not mean the action happen same time instead add information about subject like the sentence (Standing in the queue, I realised I didn't have any money.) 4.if reverse this( Starting in the new year, the new policy bans cars in the city centre.) Putting participle in the last part of sentece,what it will mean?

Hello Esmail Emon,

In the first four example sentences on this page, the order of the clauses is important. The first clause refers to an earlier condition that the second one is somehow related to.

For this reason, your sentence 1 isn't correct because the idea is that the explosion of the bomb caused the destruction of the building.

Your sentence 2 is fine.

As for your question about sentences 3 and 4, the precise meaning of participle clauses can't always be gleaned from the participle clause itself. As I mentioned above, generally the first part of the sentence states a cause or condition for the second one, but sometimes it's either your general background knowledge of how things work (e.g. generally if there is a bomb explosion and a building collapsing, probably the bomb caused the collapse) or the context (i.e. what is said before or after the sentence with the participle clause) that make the meaning clear. Though in some cases, the meaning isn't really clear, in which case it's generally better not to use a participle clause.

I hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Esmail Emon on Sun, 15/11/2020 - 05:07

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"Narrow stone steps run up the hil-side, flanked by cloesly clustered houses. " 1.Narrow stone steps run up the hill-side.Narrow stone steps were flanked by closely clustered houses. Or 2.Narrow stone steps run up the hill-side,which were flanked by closely clustered houses. My main question is the participle flanked modify what?