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 Gopal Debnath on Thu, 23/12/2021 - 08:00

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coming with a great speed, A ball hit me.
In this context, (coming with great speed) this is acting as an adjective phrase because it is adding information to 'the ball' and these two actions happened less immediately not at the moment. is this explanation correct??

Hello Gopal,

I'm afraid I'd rather not explain this sentence because it's really not very natural. I'd suggest something like 'A ball [that was] coming at a great speed hit me', though even that sounds rather strange to me -- it's a strange mix of informal and formal. But in this latter case, as you can see from the brackets, 'coming at a great speed' is a reduced relative clause and is indeed adjectival in function.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, I would say that we can write in this way---A ball came at great speed and it hit me.Two actions happened very immidiately. can't I transform into simple sentence by using present participle??

Hi Gopal Debnath,

Grammatically, that would be fine, but I think it's important to remember that grammar is not the only aspect of language.

Your first message used the phrase "with a great speed", which is grammatically OK but less commonly used (i.e., less natural-sounding) than "at great speed", which you used in your last message.

Also, in my view, it would be better to put the subject first: "A ball hit me, coming at great speed". This way, it's clear to readers straight away what thing was "coming at great speed".

And another thing to consider is that the verb "coming" might be redundant. We could just say "A ball hit me at great speed", with the same meaning. Often, speakers prefer more economical and simpler phrasings.

So, overall, it's good to practise grammar but try to remember that not all grammatically correct sentences are actually or equally used in real life. You should also consider how natural the sentence sounds, as Kirk has suggested, including whether alternative ways of saying the same thing are better.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sokhom on Wed, 22/12/2021 - 04:46

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Hello, Sir!

1. She walked out the door, her head turning for a last look at home. (her head turning for a last look at home is "Absolute Phrase".)
2. She walked out the door, turning her head for a last look at home. (turning her head for a last look at home is "Participle Phrase".)
I was wondering if the two sentences are the same in meaning and if the actions in both sentences happened simultaneously. Could you please explain how "the absolute phrase(1)" and "the participle phrase(2)" modify the sentences?
Thank you for your valuable time.
Best Wishes!

Hello Sokhom,

In these particular examples there is little difference in meaning. Both sentences describe simultaneous events. However, the first sentence's construction could be used to describe the actions of a different person to the subject of the main clause:

> She walked out of the door, our heads turning to follow her.
> She walked out of the door, the wind lifting her hair.

The second sentence's construction can only be used to describe actions performed by the same actor.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gopal Debnath on Sun, 19/12/2021 - 08:07

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I went to my grandfather's house on vacation, staying there to revive my chilhood memories.
is this correct to use participle(as to show purpose; because both actions took place in the same time more or less immidiately) in this context grammartically.
Or, Can I write it in this way- I went to my grandfather's house to stay there and to revive my chilhood memories.
Please reply🙏🙏!!

Hello Gopal,

I think the second version of the sentence with an infinitive of purpose ('I went to stay at my grandfather's house to revive my childhood memories') is better since it seems that the purpose of going to his house was to do this.

We'll get to answering your other comments as soon as we can.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, as Mr. peter k said earlier in one of my posted questions that participle clauses can describe motivation or purpose(reason) but not impersonal cause( what makes an action occur). So according to this can I use participle in this context.
at last, Would you please explain the impersonal cause to me.

Hello again Gopal Debnath,

Both forms are grammatically correct. Which is better is a question of style, so that's really a subjective choice.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team