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

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Submitted by musmusculus74569 on Sat, 13/08/2022 - 16:30


I have difficulty with the following sentence:
'Moving that quick his coat, bunching, tongues swirling like so many flames.'
I don't quite catch the meaning of what is written and don't understand why the commas are placed that way. Moreover, there seems to be no main clause in this sentence. This example is taken from the book "As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner. To be honest, there are lots of difficulties for me in this book, therefore I will be very grateful if you help me with this sentence.
I attach the full paragraph with the above phrase:

“Come here, sir,” Jewel says. He moves. Moving that quick his coat, bunching, tongues swirling like so many flames. With tossing mane and tail and rolling eye the horse makes another short curvetting rush and stops again, feet bunched, watching Jewel. Jewel walks steadily toward him, his hands at his sides. Save for Jewel’s legs they are like two figures carved for a tableau savage in the sun.

Thank you in advance,
Assel Mukhtarova.

Hello Assel,

The short answer is that the sentence is not grammatical! It's part of a literary work and is written to create an impression rather than in accordance with strict grammatical rules. The best way to understand a sentence like this it is to think of it as a series of impressions - a series of images - rather than try to decipher it in terms of its grammatical structure.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hudi on Mon, 04/07/2022 - 02:54


Hello The LearnEnglish Team,

I have two sentences,

1. The term of
taste is
used when we
talk about
2. The term of
taste is
used when we
are talking
about food.

Do they both have the same meaning ?

Does "The talking about food" in the second sentence express a continuous activity in the same way as the use of the present continuous tense ?

Thank You very much,


Hello Parikenan,

In these sentences the simple form has the sense of 'whenever we do x' while the continuous form suggests 'during this activity'. Both are acceptable ways of looking at this and both are correct. I think it's really just a question of style in this case.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by A.Ramakrishna on Sat, 25/06/2022 - 16:54


No instances have so far been found in which a participle clauses are used as extraposed object. Hope there will be useful discussion on this topic.

Submitted by rahul5843 on Wed, 15/06/2022 - 05:41


Hi, Greetings,

My query is whether a present participle modifier can be used to modify another present participle modifier?

For eg. in the following sentence, the modifier gives the result of the action.
--A desecrated B, provoking riots.
Would the following be correct:-

-- A desecrated B, provoking riots, forcing the police to ......

Does the modifier " forcing the police to...." correctly modifies the modifier "provoking riots" as a result of it.

I want to understand whether there's a concept such as consecutive modifiers, a modifier modifying a previous modifier that modifies a previous clause.

Any suggestions will be immensely helpful

Hi rahul5843,

Yes, it's quite possible to build a sequence of consequences like this:

There was an earthquake, causing many building to fall, leading to many people being homeless, resulting in many problems for families with young children.

However, sentences like this are often ambiguous. It's not clear if we are talking about a range of consequences from a single event (x causes a, b, c and d) or a sequence of cascading consequences (x causes a, a causes b, b causes c and c causes d). To avoid this ambiguity we can use lexical markers:

There was an earthquake, causing many building to fall, leading in turn to many people being homeless, and finally resulting in many problems for families with young children.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mahmoudlatif on Tue, 14/06/2022 - 23:56


Dear Sir,
Is this sentence correct ? Knowing that he wouldn't be able to buy food on his journey, he took large supplies with him .If it is , how can we use knowing and it is a stative verb!

Hello Mahmoudlatif,

The sentence is correct.

In this sentence, knowing is not a continuous form (present continuous, for example) but a participle, which is a non-finite verb form. Stative verbs are generally not used with the continuous aspect but they do have participle forms, so you can find present participles like being, knowing, understanding, liking, loving etc.



The LearnEnglish Team