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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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,
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.

Submitted by Nevı on Fri, 23/07/2021 - 12:30

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.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nicolettalee on Tue, 29/06/2021 - 08:55

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
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Tue, 29/06/2021 - 11:21

In reply to by nicolettalee


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,


The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Mon, 28/06/2021 - 14:02

I can't remember all the rules.... How can I do...?

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,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Mon, 28/06/2021 - 10:03

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!