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)

Hi Nevi,

That sentence is fine.

When the participle clause comes at the start we separate it with a comma, as you say. When the participle clause comes after the main clause the comma is optional and is generally a stylistic choice. Using a comma suggests a spoken pause, which can add emphasis to the action in the participle clause.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Fri, 30/04/2021 - 16:57

Hi excellent team, I want to know something. I saw that grammatical explanation while working reduced adjective clauses. 'This morning I saw a man who walked along the river.'='This morning I saw a man walking along the river.' I am confused, because I thought we can just use it for defining relative clauses. I mean can we say for example 'I saw Harry Kane playing football.' Is it like' I saw Harry Kane who is playing football.'? But we don't need to define him. I don't know whether I could explain my confusion. I would be grateful if you could answer me. Best wishes!

Hello Nevi,

These are examples of participle clauses, which are not the same as relative/adjective clauses. Compare:

1. I saw Harry Kane, who was playing football. 

2. I saw Harry Kane playing football.

The first sentence is a non-defining relative clause. As you say, it cannot be reduced. The relative clause provides additional information about the noun.

The second sentence is a participle clause. It does not provide additional information about Harry Kane but rather describes an action in progress at the time of the first action.


I think you'll see the difference if you look at this example, where only one form is possible:

While I was in London I saw Harry Kane, who was living in Italy at the time.

You cannot use a participle clause here because the actions are not simultaneous: living in Italy is a general state, not an action at the same as time as my seeing him.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks teacher, Plus, that sentence 'Lawyers showed the video of former officer pressing his knee on black man. ' I think the part 'officer pressing his knee on black man. ' is not reduced relative clause. Is it also participle clause? I would be grateful if you could explain the rule to me.

Hello again Nevi,

Yes, that is a participle clause. A relative clause here would be a defining relative clause identifying which officer is being described (the officer who... and not another officer). Here, however, the participle is describing the action being performed in the video.



The LearnEnglish Team

Teacher I realised sth about some group of verbs like 'to see,to show, to film, to photograph, to notice to video, to watch' These verbs are like in the same group sth. Because I always see examples with participle clause I mean object+ doing something. What's the rule about that kinf 8f verbs teacher? I would be grateful if you could explain it to me. Best wishes

Hello again Nevi,

You're right that we do often use verbs related to perception or visualisation with participle clauses. This is because their meaning lends itself to describing actions in progress. When we see something it is generally doing something. The acts of seeing/showing/watching etc are by their nature interruptions: they happen during another action or state.



The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Fri, 30/04/2021 - 15:28

Hello. What is the difference between: 1- I really loved the flowers grown in London. 2- I really loved the flowers growing in London. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The second sentence is grammatically correct but unlikely. It describes flowers which are growing now. The speaker might be looking out of their window at a panorama of the city and describing how beautiful the flowers are. However, London is such a large place that it seems unlikely it would be used as a location in this way, unless 'London' is a shortened reference for a certain place within the city rather than the whole city itself.

The first sentence is ambiguous. It could refer to some flowers which were grown in London and have been cut, or it could describe the flowers of London more generally: the flowers which are grown in London.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again. I think the following sentences are correct and meaningful, right? 1- I love the flowers which are grown in London. 2- I love the flowers which grow in London. Thank you.