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Participle clauses

Do you know how to start a clause with a present participle (e.g. seeing) or past participle (e.g. seen)?

Participle clauses

Participle clauses are a form of adverbial clause which enables us to say information in a more economical way. We can use participle clauses when the participle and the verb in the main clause have the same subject. For example:

Waiting for John, I made some tea.

Waiting for John, the kettle boiled. [This would suggest that the kettle was waiting for John!]


Forming participle clauses

Participle clauses can be formed with the present participle (-ing form of the verb) or past participle (third form of the verb). Participle clauses with past participles have a passive meaning:

Shouting loudly, Peter walked home. [Peter was shouting]

Shouted at loudly, Peter walked home. [Someone was shouting at Peter]

If we wish to emphasise that one action was before another then we can use a perfect participle (having + past participle):

Having won the match, Susan jumped for joy.

Having been told the bad news, Susan sat down and cried.



The meaning and use of participle clauses

Participle clauses give information about condition, result, reason or time. For example:


CONDITION (with a similar meaning to an if-condition):

Looked after carefully, this coat will keep you warm through many winters.

Compare: If you look after it carefully, this coat will keep you warm through many winters.


RESULT (with a similar meaning to so or therefore):

The bomb exploded, destroying the building.

Compare: The bomb exploded so the building was destroyed.


REASON (with a similar meaning to because or since):

I had no time to read my book, having spent so long doing my homework.

Compare: I had no time to read my book because I had spent so long doing my homework.


TIME (with a similar meaning to words like when, while or as soon as):

Sitting at the cafe with my friends, I suddenly realised that I had left the oven on at home.

Compare: While I was sitting at the cafe with my friends, I suddenly realised that I had left the oven on at home.

Language level

Upper intermediate: B2


Hello John Mccan,

In both examples, I would say that the -ing form is a participle.


In the first example, 'singing' is a participle with an adjectival function. It describes the pronoun 'him'. The way the sentence is constructed tells us this, as the object is the pronoun. In other words, you hear the person who is singing, not the singing which belongs to the person. In the latter case, you would say 'I heard his singing'.


In the second example, the construction is get + participle. You can use present and past participles in this construction, where present participles have an active meaning and past participles have a passive meaning. The verb 'get' here has a meaning between 'start' and 'become', depending on the context:

Let's get going. [active meaning, get going = start moving]

Let's get cooking. [active meaning, get cooking = start cooking]

Let's get dressed. [passive meaning, get dressed = become dressed]


As an aside, the participle/gerund distinction is really a false one in English, and is a relict of a neo-classical view of English which imposed Latin forms and terms on it in an inappropriate way. Modern English views of grammar prefer the term -ing form, which avoids trying to create two items from one. Instead, we treat the -ing form as a single item with a range of uses.

You can find a nice summary of this on this page:



The LearnEnglish Team

Sure understood all your points. Thank you

Actually i have read it in a book that using possessive with verbs of perception is not correct? That's why this question.

Second query -- with progressive tense if we use if we use ing with bare gerund not ing (witnessed complete act) than what does it signify?
I was watching him sing

3. To+ verb+ verbing (is this gerund as verbs object or as a participle of noun(to+ verb) working as modifier, this was my question?
Because I think with verb ing always signifies an action/gerund and with noun it becomes modifier? Thankyou again

Hello again,

I don't know of any reason why using possessive forms after verbs of perception would be incorrect. It is certainly less common. The possessive changes the meaning, as I explained in my earlier comment:

I heard him singing - I heard him at a time when he was singing

I heard his singing - I heard the singing which he produces


The verb 'watch' is often followed by a bare infinitive:

I watched her paint.

I watched him cook.

It does not give us any information about whether the act (painting or cooking in these examples) is complete or not. If you use a continuous form ('was watching') then it implies that the act of watching was incomplete or interrupted in some way, not the act that was being watched - though that may be a logical conclusion, if the watching was cut short.


I'm afraid I'm not sure I follow your third question. Perhaps you can provide an example to clarify.



The LearnEnglish Team

One more thing we can use ing as noun ( with possessive) ''within a phrase" or as adjective ( without possessive) but infinitive can only be used as adjective modifier never as a noun within a phrase.

I one question

I should get going here going is gerund

Let's us get going here going is modifier/participle of Object complement phrase (get going) right?

Hello John Mccan,

In both sentences going is a present participle, in my view.

As I mentioned previously, most modern grammars of English use the term -ing form rather than trying to impose a participle/gerund distinction. I think getting distracted by such labelling is not going to help you to improve your English.


The pattern get + ing is an example of patter 5a on this page:

As you can see, the entry highlights the debateable nature of the form:

Some grammarians do not recognise all these patterns as gerund use.



The LearnEnglish Team

1. When we form a participle clause, we MUST delete a conjunction ?

Ex) Two men seem similar if we compare them with a woman.

If we write comparing in the sentence, is it completely wrong?

Always thank you.

Hello Sunny0713,

Remember that the participle must refer to the subject of the sentence. Here, the subject is 'two men', so we need a passive meanings, which means we need a past participle:

Compared to a woman, two men seem similar.


You can include a conjunction:

If compared to a woman, two men seem similar.

When compared to a woman, two men seem similar.



The LearnEnglish Team

At the beginning of this article, you say that participle clauses are adverbial.

Given that, what would you make of the participle clause in this sentence?
Assured of a place on the team, Jack went out with his friends.

Isn’t this just the reduced form of the following adjective clause?
Jack, who was assured of a place on the team, went out with his friends.

If so, it does seem that participle clauses can be either adjectival or adverbial depending on the construct from which they are reduced.

Thanks in advance for your response.

Hello Tim

You're right -- participle clauses can also be used to modify noun phrases, which makes them adjectival rather than adverbial in such a case.

We are currently revising this whole grammar section and this is one of the pages that hasn't yet been finished. Within a month or two, this page will have a new and improved explanation, as well as a couple of new exercises.

Sorry for any confusion.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team