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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Hello Mussorie,

The first two sentences can be used interchangeably, which means there is no difference in meaning between them. The third sentence is not a correct form, so there is no meaning to explain.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Sun, 13/06/2021 - 15:45

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Hello fantastic team! I am writing to find out more about participle clauses with conjunctions. I saw following sentence in the reading text. "She became very tearful when pressed to talk about it." Here I can see -when+past participle phrase-. But I haven't known we can use past participle phrases with conjunctions, until I saw the sentence above. I just knew sentences like 'I saw her while walking on the street' (Subjects must be the same.) Would it be possible for you to explain how I can use past participle phrases with conjunctions? Thank you in advance.

Hi Nevı,

It isn't possible with all conjunctions, but it is commonly used after when. The past participle clause describes the subject of the main clause (i.e., She became very tearful when (she was) pressed to talk about it). The past participle clause normally has a passive meaning, and when shows that the two actions happened at or around the same time.

Here are some more examples.

  • When asked who his hero was, he replied 'my teacher'.
  • The disease can be cured easily when detected early.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Thu, 03/06/2021 - 19:28

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Hi superb team! I wondered sth about using participles for giving results. Can I use participle phrases for any sentence containing cause-effect relationship? For example,I am not sure if I can write following sentence "He was late to class for the third time this week , suspended from his school." -He was late to class for the third time, so he was suspended from his school." If it is not,what kind of sentence can I use participle phrases for giving results? I'd really appreciate your help.

Hi Nevi,

A present participle (-ing) can describe the result of an action, but it's important to remember that the participle's action always refers back to the subject of the main clause. For example:

The bomb exploded, destroying the building.

It is the bomb which is doing the destroying here.

 

Your sentences contain past participles (-ed), which have a passive meaning. You could describe a result using a present participle:

He was late to class for the third time this week, causing him to be suspended / resulting in his suspension from his school

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Sun, 06/06/2021 - 17:26

In reply to by Peter M.

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Hmmm Teacher, I am confused about one thing in your example sentence. "He was late to class for the third time this week, causing him to be suspended" You said - the participle's action always refers back to the subject of the main clause.- Here, subject of the main clause is he while subject of the participle phrase is again he? He caused himself to be suspended? I would be grateful if you could help me to understand that sentence correctly. You'd be doing me a huge favour.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 07/06/2021 - 07:40

In reply to by Nevı

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Hello Nevi.

To be precise, the participle here refers to the action performed by the man: being late for class caused him to be suspended.

In participle clauses, the participle does not introduce a new actor. Whatever it describes refers to the same actor as that in the main clause.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Got that teacher. Is the sentence like "He was late to class for the third time this week, which causes him to be suspended. "? Here which refers to whole first clause 'He was late to class for the third time this week. Am I right teacher?

Hello Nevi,

Yes, in this example, 'which' refers to the whole first clause.

Please note that the wording of the relative clause is a little awkward. I'd recommend 'which is the reason he's been suspended' or something like that.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Arafat on Wed, 02/06/2021 - 08:40

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Hello there. I'll truly be thankful to clear my doubts. 1. The bomb exploded, killed two people. 2. The bomb exploded, killing two people. 1. The participants breaking the rules will be removed from the competition. 2. The participants broken the rules will be removed from the competition. Are all these sentences grammatically correct? If yes, what is the difference between 1 and 2 in each pair of the sentences?