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: 4.3 (71 votes)

Submitted by TracyHoang on Mon, 06/03/2023 - 03:40

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Hi there,
Could you please tell me which of the two sentences is correct:
1. Closing all the windows and doors carefully, my mother went to bed.
2. Having closed all the windows and doors carefully, my mother went to bed.
Thanks so much.

Hello TracyHoang,

Sentence 2 is better. A perfect participle clause is often used in formal situations to speak about actions performed before the action in the main clause; the actions of closing the windows and doors in sentence 2 is a reasonable thing to do before going to bed.

It's possible to use a present participle clause (as in 1) to show an action happening at about the same time as the action in the main clause, but in this case it seems a little odd. I'm not sure I'd say it's wrong, though -- just awkward.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Amir__760__ on Wed, 08/02/2023 - 15:04

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Hi
I hope you are doing well.
Are these two following sentences wrong? I have a grammar book in which it is written they are wrong. And I don't know why!

Driving to work, he had breakfast.

Having walked along the street, I saw my old friend

Hi Amir_760_,

The first example (Driving to work...) means that he had breakfast while he was driving the car, which is unlikely. However, the sentence is not necessarily wrong. He could have had a sandwich in the car, for example. Assuming he had breakfast at home before he got in the car then we would probably say 'Having had breakfast, he drove to work'.

The second example (Having walked...) suggests that the actions were sequential (first the person walked along the street and then after walking - when the walking was finished - the person saw their old friend. It also suggests that the act of walking was key to seeing the friend, which is a little odd. I think the answer the book is looking for is probably 'Walking along the street, I saw my old friend', which would mean that the person saw their old friend while walking along the street.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Georgesj on Wed, 08/02/2023 - 09:58

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Thumb up for you, Peter and other grammarists of the learnEnglish team! You nailed it on the being/been, giving/given participial phrases.

Now I understand why editing softwares flagged my clauses around such phrases. I have to bookmark your response for future reference, till I master it.

I end my thanks with a shout of bravo to the learnEnglish team.

Hello Georgesj,

We're happy our page has helped you! Thanks for letting us know.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Georgesj on Thu, 02/02/2023 - 11:53

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Thanks for your quick response, Kirk. Now I know better.

Submitted by Georgesj on Thu, 02/02/2023 - 11:07

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Dear LearnEnglish Team,
Pertaining to the sentence in the question Submitted by Hagelslag on Tue, 15/11/2022 – (12:54), is the use of possessive with apostrophe okay in the sentence?
This is Hagelslag’s sentence: With John being at the university, there were fewer people to feed. Can one rewrite it as: With John’s being at the university, there were fewer people to feed?
Thanks a lot!

Hello Georgesj,

It's possible to use 's before noun phrases, but this does not include '-ing' phrases (which some might consider a noun phrase, since '-ing' forms can be gerunds). Or this may be more a question of style than grammar, but I could be wrong.

For example, if we change 'being at' to 'departure for' (note that 'departure' is a common noun), then it's fine. 'With John's departure for university' is correct.

If we change 'being at' to a different '-ing' phrase -- for example, 'leaving for' -- 'With John's leaving for university' is not correct.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by elizof on Mon, 30/01/2023 - 06:50

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Hi there,

Can the past participle clause be used to add information about the direct object of a verb, like, a subject?

For example:

"I saw before me, apparently projected on the ceiling, the completely worked out process and equipment in operation."

or

"I saw, filled with pride, him walk towards the stage."

Thank you so much in advance!