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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Average: 5 (2 votes)

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!

Hi elizof,

Yes, it is possible. However, we need to make sure it is clear what the participle clause refers to by adjusting the word order. If you say:

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

It seems like "filled with pride" describes "I". The reader/listener has no idea that "him" will be mentioned later in the sentence, so they will interpret "filled with pride" as describing the subject "I". On the other hand, if you say:

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

It is clear in these sentences that "filled with pride" describes "him", not "I".

I think your first sentence is fine. Although it does not explicitly mention the object before the participle clause as I described above, the clause "projected on the ceiling" seems unlikely to refer to "I" or "me" and more likely to refer to a picture or image of some kind. 

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Liam_Kurt on Fri, 27/01/2023 - 05:20

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I saw tens of rare animals (while) living in Africa
I learned many things working my own store

These participles seem like they're adverbials. But I often see these type of sentences without commas before the participles. If they're really adverbials shouldn't a comma be used such as "The firemen went into the burning building, trying to save the child"? And how about the sentence "He died trying"?

Hello Liam_Kurt,

It's an interesting question without a clear answer as you can see from these discussions on StackExchange:

https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/246170/when-to-put-a-comma-before-participial-phrase

https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/301499/comma-before-adverbial-participial-phrases-reduced-adverbial-phrases-and-parti

 

In my view there are two things to consider. First, a comma is often required when the participle does not refer to the item immediately before it. For example, your first sentence is ambiguous: if you do not include 'while' and if the context does not make it clear then it is not apparent whether it is 'I' who is living in Africa or the 'rare animals' who are living in Africa.

You can read more about this view here:

https://ell.stackexchange.com/questions/162594/comma-with-participle-clause

The second element is whether the participle clause is restrictive or non-restrictive. For examples and explanations see here:

https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/articles/commas-with-participial-phrases/

 

I hope that helps to shed some light on the topic. It's a tricky one and quite nuanced.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear teacher,
I have three questions on participial phrases; I would be happy if you could clarify them all (I'm asking to learn).
1. What is the difference between participial phrases and absolute constructions?

2. Are the past and perfect participial phrases interchangeable?
Let’s consider some of your example sentences:
Looked after carefully, these boots will last for many years.
Can we rewrite this as: Having being/been looked after carefully, these [the] boots will last for many years.
Consider this also: Having been made redundant, she started looking for a new job. There are two issues in this case: 1) why is the sentence wrong if we replace "been" with "being"? And 2) is the word "having" not even redundant in the sentence since the meaning is the same when written as: been made redundant, she started looking for a new job?

3. The below though is not among your example sentences, but can you help clarify it?
Should Peter be made the head of the learnEnglish team, given his mastery of the English language, you can bet that the platform would rank top among its class. In this sentence, can the word "giving" replace "given"?

Submitted by Devin on Tue, 03/01/2023 - 10:02

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Dear author:
I want to ask you some question about past participle clause.
Can we use the past participle clause to express a result?
Such as in this sentence:"He dropped something to the floor, scolded by his parents."
If the past participle expresses a result, It means "He dropped something to the floor, so he was scolded by his parents".But if the past participle expresses a reason, it means "He dropped something to the floor, because he was scolded by his parents".
I don't know which one is correct.

I konw if it is a present participle, we can use it to express both result and reason. Such as: The movie star made a dramatic entrance, attracting everyone’s attention.(the present participleclause shows the result)
Being done in a hurry, the exercises were full of mistakes.(the present participleclause shows the reason)

But some people consider if it is a past participle clause, it only shows the reason of the main sentence, and it doesn't show a result of the main sentence.
They consider it is because the past participle expresses the event which has been completed when the main action happen, but the result is usually happen after the main action. Therefore the past participle can't express a result.
I don't know does it right? I wish to know your idea about why past participle clause can't show a result. Thank you so much.

Such as in this sentence:"He dropped something to the floor, scolded by his parents." In this sentence, some people consider it means he had been scolded by his parents when he dropped something, So it only means "He drop something to the floor, because he was scolded by his parents" . And they think "He dropped something to the floor, so he was scolded by his parents" is a wrong interpretation for the sentence. Do you agree that?

Thanks a lot for your help.

Hi Devin,

Past participle clauses express reasons, but not results. In your example, the only possible meaning is that "scolded by his parents" is the reason for dropping the thing.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team