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: 4.2 (81 votes)

Submitted by iqulay_2023 on Mon, 13/05/2024 - 01:54

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Sir, I have one question about using 'Perfect Participle'. In the example above, there is a sentence that makes me get confused: - "Having finished their training, they will be fully qualified doctors". Why do we use 'will'? Can we also use present tense? Please advise

Hello iqulay_2023,

You can use the present or a modal like 'will' here:

Having finished their training, they are fully qualified doctors.

Having finished their training, they will be fully qualified doctors.

The first sentence describes a fact: it tells us that they have finished and they are doctors already. The second sentence is a prediction: the speaker is drawing a logical conclusion that since they have finished their training they must now be doctors. Another example may clarify this:

Having left early, he will be at work now.

The speaker does not know for sure that the other person is at work, but can logically assume it based on what is known.

 

Predictions like this can be about the future as well as the present. For example:

Jane finished her project yesterday.

Well, having finished it already, she'll definitely be at the party tomorrow.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Tony_M on Tue, 23/04/2024 - 13:17

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Hello,

My question is about when+participle, text books say that the participle should agree with the subject in the main
clause:
- We should be extremely attentive when discussing such matters. (we should be... when we discuss)

But very often I come across sentences in which when + ing clauses convey some ideas that can be inherited from the context, or they are just general:

- It's Sod's law that it will rain when going for a picnic. (whenever you/we go somewhere for a picnic)
- It is important to stay positive when trying to lose weight. (the author of this sentence addresses any reader who wants to lose weight)
- Is it right that 'mallet' and 'hammer' can be synomyms when talking about tools? (just a general idea: when people, you, we, they talk)

Do these sound natural to you?

It might be confusing when we have two subjects, and it's unclear which one of those two the participle should agree with, for example:

- Fred met Mary in Paris when travelling abroad. It was Mary that was travelling; Fred had always lived in Paris.

Does it make sense? 

Tony

Hello Tony_M,

The idea is that we understand the implied subject of the -ing form to be inherited from ('inherit' -- I like how you worded that) the subject of the main clause.

For this reason, when they hear a sentence such as 'Fred met Mary in Paris when travelling abroad', most will assume that Fred is the one who was travelling. The explanation that comes after that sentence is definitely not what would generally be understood; this pair of sentences is definitely to be avoided. Even if Fred is the one who was travelling, really, this sort of sentence is best rephrased due to the possible ambiguity.

The other sentences you ask about sound OK to me, though if I were writing, I'd most likely rephrase them to avoid the situation you're asking about. It might help you to think that these sentences have what's often called a 'dummy subject'. The subject pronoun 'it' doesn't really refer to anything; it's really just filling a syntactic gap that English doesn't generally allow to be left empty.

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Hello again Kirk,

Yes, everything is clear. Thank you, as always, you are a rockstar.

Just to summarize your message:
The sentences with it-subjects are pretty straightforward and, if used in everyday speech, will not cause confusion. These 'dummies' don't actually do anything, they are merely placeholders. Such examples are clear, but grammatically, they are lame, since the subjects still don't match (the main clause has 'it', the -ing might have a few implied subjects). When we use a normal subject (like in my last example), and our -ing doesn't agree with it, we create a dangling modifier, which definitely makes the sentence ambiguous. 

I assume that the easiest way to rephrase these sentences (without changing the ideas) is to add subjects to when clauses, thereby transforming them into regular time clauses:

- It's Sod's law that it will rain when you go for a picnic. 
- It is important to stay positive when you try to lose weight. 
- Is it right that 'mallet' and 'hammer' can be synonyms when people talk about tools?
- Fred met Mary in Paris when she was travelling (travelled) abroad. (probably that's the best option)

On the other hand, we can change the subjects in the main clauses, but it might require some additional rephrasing:

- When going for a picnic, you are likely to experience Sod's law in action, as most probably it will rain. 
- When trying to lose weight, you should stay positive.
- Do people often use 'mallet' and 'hammer' interchangeably (or as synonyms) when talking about tools?

Does that make sense?

Tony

Submitted by le thu huong on Sat, 23/03/2024 - 09:43

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Hello teachers,

I have a question about using present participle clause. As I know, the subject in two clause should be the same, but I often come across some sentences like the below. As I see, the subject is not the same. So could you help explain this point for me? 

"when developing a mobile marketing strategy, the most important things to consider is your content."

Based on what I learned, I would write the above as below

" When developing a mobile marketing strategy, you should consider your content as the most important thing" 

I know It sounds unnatural, but I was stuck there. Please help to clear things out for me.

Thank you so much!!

Hello le thu huong,

Sometimes a sentence looks like a participle clause because certain words are omitted. Here, you actually have a reduced relative clause rather than a participle clause, The 'full' sentence is as follows:

When you are developing a mobile marketing strategy, the most important things to consider is your content.

You can read more about reduced relative clauses here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reduced_relative_clause

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Peter,

I did check about reduced relative clauses. However, I still cannot figure out the answer for the initial question. As my knowledge, the relative clause can be reduced when there is one part in common ( the subject or the object), but as the sentence in question, I cannot see anything like that. Could you help to explain one more time cause I really feel stuck at this grammar point. 

Thank you so much for your patience and help.