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)

Submitted by Wrakshamara on Wed, 20/10/2021 - 12:10


''As Gorman finished her poem, four US presidents and first ladies, two former vice presidents and their spouses, dozens of lawmakers and scores of diplomats gave her a standing ovation, some struggling to hide their tears.''

What is the grammar behind using the last clause ''some struggling to hide their tears'?
Is it present participle? If yes, why didn't the writer use 'with' before 'some struggling...' as the participle has not the same subject as the main clause?

Please asnwer this, Sir.

Hello Wrakshamara,

You certainly could use 'with' here. However, you can also read the sentence as 'some of whom were struggling...'. This structure is often reduced in this way.

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Wrakshamara on Mon, 18/10/2021 - 07:21


''A new group of strangers crowded around, united by nothing more than the sound of a young American’s fingers on the keys.''

Is the second clause beginning with ''united by...'' a past participle clause , or is it a reduced relative clause(who are united by nothing...)?

Thanks and regards.

Hi Wrakshamara,

I think you can interpret it as either. They have identical forms and meanings here.

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ali shah on Sun, 17/10/2021 - 11:49


"Environmental disasters are pummelling the planet, intensely and frequently."

Sir, why has a comma been put before 'intensely and frequently'? Don't you think there shouldn't have been a comma before as those are not sentence adverbs?

Hello ali shah,

I'm afraid that I can't explain why the writer chose to write his sentence this way, but to me it looks like a way of lending emphasis to the two qualities of the effects of the disasters.

I do agree that it is a bit unusual, but it doesn't strike me as wrong. Some editors might ask the writer to change the sentence, but I'm afraid this is a topic we don't deal with on LearnEnglish.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Wrakshamara on Sat, 16/10/2021 - 07:58


Hello, Sir. Hope you're doing well. Let me put my query.

''All parties involved in this war were rival sovereign nodes, yet united in spilling blood on local streets.''
Is the second clause starting with 'yet united...' is the reduced form of 'yet they are united...'?

Thanks and regards.

Hello Wrakshamara,

I think the verb 'were' is applicable to both clauses here: "... yet [they were] united in..."

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ali shah on Tue, 12/10/2021 - 11:21


'I got calls telling me to be thankful that I had not been physically hurt, and I am.'

Would you please shed some light on the structure of this 'got calls telling me' phrase and the type of phrase it is?

Hello ali shah,

Here 'telling me to be thankful that I had not been physically hurt' is a present participle clause that adds information about the kind of calls received. It's similar in function to a relative clause in this way.

So the basic structure is 'I got calls' and then the clause beginning with the present participle 'telling' gives more information about those calls.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team