You are here

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 sumanasc

I'd suggest you have a look at the Adverbials section of our Grammar reference. As you can see there, a prepositional phrase (such as 'with his eyes wide open') is a kind of adverbial.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sir
Please tell whether the following sentence is correct as an adverb clause:
The ships returned to the harbour which took a long time in sea.

Hello sumanasc,

The sentence is not correct. I'm not entirely sure what you are trying to say, and there are several issues with word selection, but in terms of grammar you have a relative (adjective) clause beginning with 'which' and this clause describes the noun preceding it. In other words, in your sentence it is 'the harbour' which has taken a long time at sea.

Perhaps you mean this:

The ships returned to the harbour after a long time at sea.



The LearnEnglish Team

In a book review, my student has written: "Carmen tries to persuade Jack to kill her husband, but strongly refusing, he decides to leave". I have corrected this to ..."but he strongly refuses and decides to leave". My student's sentence is wrong, but I am struggling to explain why.
"Strongly refusing" I'd say is wrong because the -ing form is used for simultaneous actions, but even if I were to correct this to "...but having strongly refused, he decides to leave." still sounds strange. Any thoughts greatly appreciated!

Hello Kali12,

The actions here are simply a sequence. A participle clause would imply either that they happen simultaneously, as you say, which is not the case, or that there is some kind of link between them, such as one action causing the other or one action only being possible after another. In this case, your correction is the best option.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi...excellent answers participle clause questions.
My student wrote the was a book review:
"He inevitably runs into danger, having to fight to stay alive".

This doesn't sound good to me. I would say..."and has to fight to stay alive". But I can't for the life of me think why. The actions are closely related, causal, closely related, but it sounds strange. Any comments greatly appreciated!

Hi Kali12,

There is a problem with the sentence, but it is not grammatical. The participle clause here would explain the reason for an action. In other words, it would tell us why he runs into danger. Thus, the sentence can be expressed like this:

He runs into danger because he has to fight to stay alive.

This seems to me to get the cause-effect relationship backwards. It is not, I imagine, that he runs into danger because he has to fight to stay alive, but rather than he has to fight to stay alive because he runs into danger.

The best way to express the idea would be with a simple conjunction, as you suggest:

He inevitably runs into danger, and has to fight to stay alive.



The LearnEnglish Team

Many thanks!

Hi team,
I would like to know if the sentence "I haven't read the book recommended by my teacher last week." constitutes as a participle clause.
If so, i would love to know why.
Many thanks

Hello slopedasian,

In your sentence 'recommended by my teacher last week' is a reduced relative clause which describes the noun 'book'. It has an adjectival function.

The action in a participle clause must refer to the same subject as the main clause, and that is not the case here (the teacher, not 'I', is the person who did the recommending).



The LearnEnglish Team