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 Gopal,

Neither of those are correct. 'slip' is an intransitive verb and so doesn't make sense in the passive.

You could say 'Slipping, an elderly man fell on the ground' or 'Having slipped, ...', but really the most natural sentence would be 1.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, Is it personal cause??
to me, It is impersonal cause, because he did not intend to slip.
Please clear this doubt by explaining explicitly!!

Hello Gopal,

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the framework of 'personal' or 'impersonal' causes that you seem to be using to analyse this grammar.

As I think we've mentioned before, we're not able to provide the service of regularly analysing sentences that our users create, as our main purpose in the comments is to help our users with the materials available on our site. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Jonathan sir, At first thank you for replying.
Last examples--
1.Two friends went trekking in the cherad Hill and they tried to cross a crevice, jumping, but one of them got stuck in crevice.The other succeeded. Then, he went down the hill to get help of some people. While he is midway, a tiger came out of bush,jumping.

Here, (1).Is (Trekking) gerund (2) both (Jumping) is acting as an adverb of manner.

2. My friend was driving a car at moderate speed,but a taxi driver suddenly came before him and he had to stop his car (by) pressing break to avoid an accident.
Here, (PRESSING) is acting as an adverb of manner rather than that of means or methode, Because manner means the way in which one performed an action and means indicates the methode with which one performed an action.
Here, It seems to me as an adverb of means. If I am wrong in my explanations ,please correct me by explaining explicitly.
Please do reply!!

Submitted by Parikenan on Sun, 30/01/2022 - 22:33

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Hello The LearningEnglish team,

I have often misplaced these two prepositions, "to" for "for" or vice versa. Especially when it (the preposition) is followed by gerund phrases.

I have got a paragraph as an example here.

“At the end of the lunch, I asked David if he thought it would be possible to create a small, easy-to-use guide “to” reading a company's financial statement, using the unique set of tools Warren had developed “for” uncovering these wonderfully profitable businesses.”

From the sentences above, If I misplaced “to” reading with “for” reading and “for” uncovering with “to” uncovering, would it much change the fundamental meaning of the sentences ?

And, is there a formula related to the use of these two prepositions
( to and for ) that are followed by gerund phrases ?

Thank You,
Hudi Parikenan.

Hello Parikenan,

Mastering when to use 'to' and 'for' is indeed a significant challenge. While there are some patterns to their use, ultimately the reason we use one or the other depends on the phrases they appear with and what the meaning is.

The main thing to consider is the word or phrase before the preposition. In the first example from your passage, 'to' is used with 'guide'. By taking a look in a good dictionary (e.g. this Longman entry https://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/guide), you can find 'guide to' under entry 3. As it shows, a 'guide to X' is a book that explains topic X. That fits the meaning of your passage, where the guide explains how to read the financial statement.

By the way, although it's more difficult to find, if you search that same dictionary entry, you can also see 'guide for' in the 4th example in the 'Examples from the Corpus' section. In that sentence ('A guide for hospital staff will be published shortly ...') note that 'for' tells us about the people the guide was made for. So as you can see, it's possible to use both 'to' and 'for' after 'guide', but the former tells us about the topic of the guide and the latter tells us about who it was written for.

Unfortunately, it's not always this easy, which we can see with the second example from your passage, where 'for' follows the verb 'had developed' and clearly speaks about purpose. Some research in the same dictionary shows only one use of 'developed for' and none of 'developed to'. In the case of the Cambridge Dictionary (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/develop), I could find 'developed to allow' (also talking about purpose, though notice here it's followed by an infinite and not an '-ing' form) and none of 'developed for'.

In a case like this, it's probably safest to use 'develop' + an infinitive of purpose since an infinitive of purpose is used in many different contexts. But using 'for' + an '-ing' form is also correct here, even if it's more difficult to find in dictionaries.

I wish there were a clearer formula that I could give you, but as far as I know there isn't.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by HieuNT on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 20:35

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Hello The LearningEnglish team,

I have some questions about reducing relative clause with participle clause.

1) Can we reduce a non-defining relative clause? For example:
a1> The house, built in 1883, has just been opened to the public.
a2> Alice, working in Brussels and London ever since leaving Edinburgh, will be starting a teaching course in the autumn.

Or we have to write out the full clause:
b1>The house, which was built in 1883, has jut been opened to the public.
b2> Alice, who has worked in Brussels and London ever since leaving Edinburgh, will be starting a teaching course in the autumn.

In these examples, if <a1> and <a2> are possible, can we use it in writing, especially in formal contexts?

2) In this example:
> The bomb exploded, destroying the whole building.

Can we replace the participle clause ('destroying...') with 'which' that refers to the whole previous clause ('The bomb exploded')?
> The bomb exploded, which destroyed the whole building.

If so, can we say that we have used the participle clause to reduce the which-clause?

Between a participle clause and 'which' (refers to a previous clause), which is preferred in writing (more formal contexts).

Look forward to your answers.
Hieu Nguyen

Hello Hieu Nguyen,

Both a1 and a2 are perfectly acceptable in both written and spoken English.

I dislike the term 'reduced relative clause', to be honest. Grammatically speaking, it's a misnomer. The correct way to think about these sentences is not that you are taking a relative clause and reducing it, but rather that you are choosing between two possible clauses: a relative clause and a participle (-ed or -ing) clause. Thus, the real question is not 'Can relative clauses be reduced?' but 'Is it possible to use participle clauses here?'

In your second example both the relative clause and the participle clause are correct. I don't think either is more preferable in written English. Rather, it's a question of personal style, consistency within the text and rhetorical effect.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again Mr. Peter,

While waiting for the answers, I did some research myself and I'm aware that the term "reduced relative clause" is a misnomer. But honestly, I've never thought the issue could be easily resolved by making the problem become the choice between a relative clause and a participle clause . Your answer really gave me a different perspective on this topic. I really thank you for that!

However, there's still something bothering me. I came across this article on the Cambridge blog. (https://www.cambridge.org/elt/blog/2015/10/10/grammar-beyond-7/)

In the article, the author argues that "it is not usually grammatical to reduce non-identifying adjective clauses when the verb is in the continuous form (is studying) or passive (is built).", which means sentences like these would be incorrect:

a> Lynn, studying chemistry, wants to become a doctor.
b> My parents' house, damaged in the hurricane, was a complete disaster.

Instead, he said that we should "reduce non-identifying adjective clause" if "the reduction" create an appositive clause (that is, a clause which essentially gives another name to the noun it modifies), as in:

c> Lynn, (who is) my neighbour, is studying chemistry.
d> My parents' house, (which is) located near the beach, survived the hurricane.

To be honest, I don't see much difference between his 4 examples. I think we can kind of "reduce" all of them as you said.

Also, I've found some more examples in the "Oxford Guide to English Grammar by John Eastwood, section 276" supporting your explanation:

e> To Robin, sunbathing on the beach, all his problems seemed far away.
f> The first British TV commercial, broadcast in 1955, was for toothpaste.

The question here is that was the author of the article wrong? And we can always use a "participle clause" or an "adjective/adverbial phrase" or an "appositive" in the place of a full relative clause, can't we?

Hieu Nguyen