Participle clauses

Do you know how to use participle clauses to say information in a more economical way?

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

Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.

Language level

B2 English level (upper intermediate)

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.

'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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir. Hope you're doing well.
Please address the following query:
1.Widely seen as ‘father of the project’, Dr John experienced the ups and downs that come with being called a hero and a villain and then a hero in one lifetime.
Is the above sentence grammatically correct? Don't you think 'being' should have added before 'widely'? What does we call the first clause?

Hi ali shah,
Yes, it is grammatically correct! The 'widely seen' part is called a past participle clause. As the page above notes, past participle clauses normally have a passive meaning. So, that's why there's no 'being' here - this particular structure already contains this meaning. Have a look at the 'Past participle clauses' section on the page above for some more examples of this structure. I hope it helps :)
Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello LearnEnglish Team

Why do consider participle clauses to be Upper Intermediate B2 level grammar?

I have participle clauses included in Advanced C1 English textbooks but never in Upper Intermediate B2 level.

Cheers

Adam

Hello Adam,

Level designations are always subjective. We consider participle clauses to be accessible for learners at this level. Of course, structures can be taught at different degrees of complexity: at lower levels the explanations may be simpler and avoid some of the more complex aspects; these can be introduced later when the topic is approached again.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, LearnEnglish Team.
I want to know about the use of conjunction in participial construction.

Here is a sentence.
"Feeling nervous, she was carefully studying her notes."
In this participial construction, what the speaker intends to express is not clear. It can be variously interpreted in many ways.
Why? The speaker might want to say with Although, When, While, or Because.
I have been taught that I can put conjunction if I want to make it clearer.
Like below,
- Although feeling nervous, she was carefully studying her note.
- While feeling nervous, she was carefully studying her note.
- Because feeling nervous, she was carefully studying her note.

Are these three all right?

Of course, I know there is also a different grammatical form with the third one.
- Because of feeling nervous, she was carefully studying her notes.
( 'because of' works as a preposition, and 'feeling nervous' is a noun phrase.)

- Because feeling nervous, she was carefully studying her notes.
('because' works as a conjunction, and 'feeling nervous' is participial construction.)

In English grammar, especially in the field of participial construction,
Is 'because feeling nervous' wrong?
Or Can I use it?

Thanks in advance.

Hello Hyeyoung Min,

As you say, participle clauses/phrases can be ambiguous, though I think when placed in context rather than presented as isolated sentences the intended meaning is usually clear.

It is possible to use conjunctions like this. However, 'because' is not possible. After 'because' you need to use a subject-verb rather than just a participle:
~ Because she was feeling nervous...

'Because of' is also not possible. We follow 'because of' with a noun and not an -ing form:
~ Because of her nerves, ...

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello The LearnEnglish Team,

I have just read a sentence like this below,

I spent a whole day listening to the man who was a mechanic telling me a story about when he was young.

Are "listening and telling" in the sentence above participle ?

And can I interpret the sentence above as,

I spent a whole day, which listened to the man who was a mechanic who told me a story about when he was young.

Is that correct or wrong ?

Hello Parikenan,

It sounds to me as if you've understood the sentence correctly, and yes, I'd call both of those participles. In the first case, the verb 'spend' is often followed by a period of time (here 'a whole day') plus a participle that describes what the subject was doing during that time.

In the second case, verbs of perception (such as 'see', 'watch', and 'listen') can be followed by a participle or a bare infinitive that describes what is perceived. When the second verb is a participle, it puts more emphasis on the duration or a specific moment in time -- it's impossible to say without knowing the context or the speaker's intention.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk,

In my comprehension about the sentence,
I interpret "listening" as a modifier that modifies a clause "I spent a whole day". In this case, I am using "which" after a comma to make sure that "listening" is modifying a clause.

And I interpret "telling" as a modifier that modifies a mechanic.

I just found out that one of the functions of a participle is for emphasizing the duration or a specific moment in time of something that is done by an object when the participle is put in the second verb as you mentioned above - in this case, how a mechanic tells a story about him when he was young. ( I hope I am not misinterpreting your explanation related to the function of a participle as a second verb )

Thank you very much, Kirk.

Hi fantastic team I am writing to find out more about following sentence. "He has signed a new four-year contract with MANU, keeping him at the club until 2025." I think participle clause 'keeping him at the club until 2025' is reduced from '... contract with MANU, which keeps him at the club until 2025.' It is a reduced adjective clause, describing a new four-year contract. Would it be possible for you to check if my interferences are true? I look forward to hearing from you.

Hello Nevi,

Sentences like this can be ambiguous. You can often read the -ing form in two ways: adverbially describing the action in the main clause or adjectivally providing more information about the noun phrase which precedes it. I think that's the case here too. You can say that it is the act of signing the contract which will keep him at the club, or the contract which will keep him at the club. I think the second is more likely, as you say, but it is ambiguous.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Teacher, In business email, we always write: "As discussed, here's the price list.", or "As mentioned, here's the price list." The use of "as discussed" and "as mentioned" here, is it a participle clause? So the full sentence of "as discussed" should be "As it is discussed, xxx.". Is this correct? If not, why suddenly we have a clause with a past participle here? I wonder if you could help to explain. Thank you. Nicoletta

Hello Nicoletta,

I wouldn't say those are participle clauses. They are reduced forms of longer clauses which have become fixed expressions due to being used so frequently.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Rafaela1,

First of all, remember that participle clauses aren't used much in speech or writing -- it's really only in quite formal writing or very formal speaking that you find them. This means you probably won't find that you need to use them very often.

Assuming that you don't urgently need to learn to use participle clauses, I'd recommend that you look out for them as you listen to and read English. Write them down somewhere and analyse them using the explanation above. As you do this, I think you will start to remember the structures and thus be able to begin to use them. You're welcome to ask us for help if you have further questions.

How does that sound?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi superb team! I am writing to find out more about the pattern 'understand somebody doing something ' in the following sentence. - I can understand her wanting to live alone. - Here I am not sure whether participle clause 'wanting to live alone' is reduced relative clause. I would be grateful if you could explain which grammatical structure is that. Thank you in advance. Best wishes!

Hello Nevi,

I'd say that 'her wanting to live alone' is a noun phrase; it's the same structure as 'her desire to live alone'; that is, 'wanting' is a noun, just like 'desire' is.

Note that you could also say 'Her wanting to live alone is understandable' -- in this case, the clause is also a noun phrase plus the verb 'be' plus an adjective.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your explanations,teacher. I really appreciate them. Lastly, I didn't know we can put possesive adjectives like my,your, his... in front of gerunds before you said wanting is a gerund. Can we put possesive adjectives in front of all gerunds? For example, His studying English is more effective than mine.

Hi Nevı,

Yes, that's right :)

But for your example, I would say one of these versions instead:

  • His studying is more effective than mine.
  • His studying of English is more effective than mine.

The reason is that a gerund (e.g. studying) is somewhere between a verb and a noun (see this comment thread for a more detailed explanation). If you add a possessive adjective, it makes it more noun-like than verb-like, and nouns have a preposition before an object - that's why I added 'of' in the second sentence. 

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Could you please explain the below structures and their differences in more detail because they are more confusing? can they be used interchangeably? 1.English learners sometimes have trouble choosing between the endings. choosing ( present participle followed by a noun "trouble") 2.English learners sometimes have trouble in choosing between the endings. noun (trouble) + preposition + gerund (choosing) 3.English learners sometimes have trouble to choose between the endings. noun (trouble) + infinitive (to choose).

Hello Mussorie,

I think the first two forms can be used interchangeably. The third one does not look correct to me as a UK English speaker.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Could you please explain the difference in meaning between the first two sentences, if possible, then the third sentence?

Hello Mussorie,

The first two sentences can be used interchangeably, which means there is no difference in meaning between them. The third sentence is not a correct form, so there is no meaning to explain.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello fantastic team! I am writing to find out more about participle clauses with conjunctions. I saw following sentence in the reading text. "She became very tearful when pressed to talk about it." Here I can see -when+past participle phrase-. But I haven't known we can use past participle phrases with conjunctions, until I saw the sentence above. I just knew sentences like 'I saw her while walking on the street' (Subjects must be the same.) Would it be possible for you to explain how I can use past participle phrases with conjunctions? Thank you in advance.

Hi Nevı,

It isn't possible with all conjunctions, but it is commonly used after when. The past participle clause describes the subject of the main clause (i.e., She became very tearful when (she was) pressed to talk about it). The past participle clause normally has a passive meaning, and when shows that the two actions happened at or around the same time.

Here are some more examples.

  • When asked who his hero was, he replied 'my teacher'.
  • The disease can be cured easily when detected early.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi superb team! I wondered sth about using participles for giving results. Can I use participle phrases for any sentence containing cause-effect relationship? For example,I am not sure if I can write following sentence "He was late to class for the third time this week , suspended from his school." -He was late to class for the third time, so he was suspended from his school." If it is not,what kind of sentence can I use participle phrases for giving results? I'd really appreciate your help.

Hi Nevi,

A present participle (-ing) can describe the result of an action, but it's important to remember that the participle's action always refers back to the subject of the main clause. For example:

The bomb exploded, destroying the building.

It is the bomb which is doing the destroying here.

 

Your sentences contain past participles (-ed), which have a passive meaning. You could describe a result using a present participle:

He was late to class for the third time this week, causing him to be suspended / resulting in his suspension from his school

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hmmm Teacher, I am confused about one thing in your example sentence. "He was late to class for the third time this week, causing him to be suspended" You said - the participle's action always refers back to the subject of the main clause.- Here, subject of the main clause is he while subject of the participle phrase is again he? He caused himself to be suspended? I would be grateful if you could help me to understand that sentence correctly. You'd be doing me a huge favour.

Hello Nevi.

To be precise, the participle here refers to the action performed by the man: being late for class caused him to be suspended.

In participle clauses, the participle does not introduce a new actor. Whatever it describes refers to the same actor as that in the main clause.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Got that teacher. Is the sentence like "He was late to class for the third time this week, which causes him to be suspended. "? Here which refers to whole first clause 'He was late to class for the third time this week. Am I right teacher?

Hello Nevi,

Yes, in this example, 'which' refers to the whole first clause.

Please note that the wording of the relative clause is a little awkward. I'd recommend 'which is the reason he's been suspended' or something like that.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello there. I'll truly be thankful to clear my doubts. 1. The bomb exploded, killed two people. 2. The bomb exploded, killing two people. 1. The participants breaking the rules will be removed from the competition. 2. The participants broken the rules will be removed from the competition. Are all these sentences grammatically correct? If yes, what is the difference between 1 and 2 in each pair of the sentences?

Hello Arafat,

In each pair, the correct form is with -ing (present participle).

The present participle has an active meaning, while the past participle (-ed) has a passive meaning. In your examples an active meaning is required: it is the bomb which explodes and the participants who break the rules.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi outstanding team! I am trying to learn participle clauses's function like time relationships, reason results, condition. I was confused about one thing. I saw following sentence 'She left the room singing happily.' I don't know if I can also say 'Singing happily, she left the room. ' I saw some participle clauses for actions happening at the same time at the beginning of a sentence and also at the end of the sentence. Is there a rule like if clause at the beginning, put comma after clause and if clause an the end, don't put comma. I'd really appreciate it.

Hi Nevi,

That sentence is fine.

When the participle clause comes at the start we separate it with a comma, as you say. When the participle clause comes after the main clause the comma is optional and is generally a stylistic choice. Using a comma suggests a spoken pause, which can add emphasis to the action in the participle clause.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi excellent team, I want to know something. I saw that grammatical explanation while working reduced adjective clauses. 'This morning I saw a man who walked along the river.'='This morning I saw a man walking along the river.' I am confused, because I thought we can just use it for defining relative clauses. I mean can we say for example 'I saw Harry Kane playing football.' Is it like' I saw Harry Kane who is playing football.'? But we don't need to define him. I don't know whether I could explain my confusion. I would be grateful if you could answer me. Best wishes!

Hello Nevi,

These are examples of participle clauses, which are not the same as relative/adjective clauses. Compare:

1. I saw Harry Kane, who was playing football. 

2. I saw Harry Kane playing football.

The first sentence is a non-defining relative clause. As you say, it cannot be reduced. The relative clause provides additional information about the noun.

The second sentence is a participle clause. It does not provide additional information about Harry Kane but rather describes an action in progress at the time of the first action.

 

I think you'll see the difference if you look at this example, where only one form is possible:

While I was in London I saw Harry Kane, who was living in Italy at the time.

You cannot use a participle clause here because the actions are not simultaneous: living in Italy is a general state, not an action at the same as time as my seeing him.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks teacher, Plus, that sentence 'Lawyers showed the video of former officer pressing his knee on black man. ' I think the part 'officer pressing his knee on black man. ' is not reduced relative clause. Is it also participle clause? I would be grateful if you could explain the rule to me.

Hello again Nevi,

Yes, that is a participle clause. A relative clause here would be a defining relative clause identifying which officer is being described (the officer who... and not another officer). Here, however, the participle is describing the action being performed in the video.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Teacher I realised sth about some group of verbs like 'to see,to show, to film, to photograph, to notice to video, to watch' These verbs are like in the same group sth. Because I always see examples with participle clause I mean object+ doing something. What's the rule about that kinf 8f verbs teacher? I would be grateful if you could explain it to me. Best wishes

Hello again Nevi,

You're right that we do often use verbs related to perception or visualisation with participle clauses. This is because their meaning lends itself to describing actions in progress. When we see something it is generally doing something. The acts of seeing/showing/watching etc are by their nature interruptions: they happen during another action or state.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. What is the difference between: 1- I really loved the flowers grown in London. 2- I really loved the flowers growing in London. Thank you.