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 (76 votes)

Dear Jonathan,
Thanks a lot for your reply. Could you tell me why past participle clauses express reasons, not results? Is it because past participle shows the action happened before the main sentence? Or it is just a using habit of English language, people don't know why it is.

Hi Devin,

Yes, right - the past participle shows that the action already happened, with reference to the action in the main clause. Aside from the 'reason' usage, past participle clauses can also show something taking place as the same time as the main clause action (e.g. Filled with pride, he walked towards the stage). But past participle clauses can't show a result (i.e. something caused by and occurring after the main clause action).

I hope that answers your question.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear author,
Are sentences containing participles considered to be complex ones considering the participles as 'clauses'?

Hi Tama511226,

It really depends on how "clause" and "complex sentence" are defined. Different grammar models do this in different ways. My point of view is similar to Peter's (see his comment below in reply to Babar205).

Jonathan 

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Babar205 on Fri, 09/12/2022 - 14:08

Permalink

Dear Learn English Team,
Kindly guide about the following sentence:
The beans also vary in flvour, depending on the age of the tree.
Is the 2nd part of the sentence a clause or a phrase and whether it is a simple sentence or complex?

Hello Babar205,

There is some debate amongst grammarians as to whether this kind of form is a participle clause or a participle phrase. In my view it is a phrase with an adverbial function, adding extra information about the verb phrase. This means that the sentence has only once clause and so is a simple sentence.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter,
So we don't consider forms like 'Created from a fusion of the animal’s top lip and its nose, the elephant’s trunk is a multi-functional tool.' as a complex sentence depending on the concept that the participle part at the beginning is a phrase not a clause, for it doesn't contain a subject neither does the verb indicate a tense? Your reply would be very helpful and appreciated.

Hello again Tama511226,

To my understanding that is correct.

 

This site is intended for language learners, whereas this question belongs in the linguistics field. For these kinds of questions I think you'll find StackExchange a good place:

https://english.stackexchange.com

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team