Participle clauses

(Use and particularities of participle clauses in English grammar)

Table of contents – participle clauses

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Using participle clauses
  2. Particularities of participle clauses
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What are participle clauses and how are they used (explanation)?

In the English language, participle clauses are utilised to connect sentences, parts thereof, or both. Also, they may shorten sentences or subsentences. To achieve these two purposes, either the past participle or the present participle serve as tools. Compare these possibilities in detail:

  1. Participle clauses present the possibility to join entire sentences. Consider these compared examples:
    • Example 1:
      • The house was built last year. It was sold yesterday.”
        • This example shows two separate independent sentences.
      • “The house built last year was sold yesterday.”
        • This version combines the separate sentences by introducing the clause ‘built last year’.
    • Example 2:
      • “Look at that man. He is swimming in the river.
        • This utterance also encompasses two separate sentences.
      • “Look at that man swimming in the river.
        • Here, the construction follows the same principle: The clause ‘swimming in the river’ connects the two separate parts.
  2. Likewise, a participle clause may serve to shorten sentences:
    • Example 1:
      • Not shortened: When I realized that there was no other way out, I asked for help.”
        • This complex sentence comprises an independent and two subordinate clauses.
      • Short version: Realizing that there was no other way out, I asked for help.”
        • The participle ‘realizing’ introduces the complex formation here and so reduces the number of clauses.
    • Example 2:
      • Not shortened: Because he lost his job, he needed to get a new one.”
        • The statement here includes a subordinate and an independent clause.
      • Short version: Having lost his job, he needed to get a new one.”
        • By using the participle clause ‘having lost’, the subordinate clause shrinks and does not require the pronoun ‘he’ anymore.
    • Example 3:
      • Not shortened: “Before we left the house, we had closed all the windows.”
        • Also here, we have two clauses with the two named subjects ‘we’.
      • Short version: “Before leaving the house, we had closed all the windows.”
        • Again, the participle ‘leaving’ replaces the subject ‘we’ and conjugated verb ‘left’ here to make this part of the statement shorter.

Attention: Considering the rule, the participle (either the past or present one) inside the participle clause must always refer to the sentence subject. The box below explains the exceptions:

What are the particularities when using participle clauses?

As pointed out above, the participle, which can be the present or past participle, must consistently relate to the subject of the respective sentence. However, some exceptions exist if one of the following verbs is used:

  • When using participle clauses with the verbs ‘see, hear, feel, watch, notice, listen, find, smell’, the participle can also refer to the object (for details, see the object in English) of the sentence:
    • “His boss saw him working in the garden.”
    • “I heard Susie crying and helped her.”
    • “We watched the planes landing.”
  • Information: Note that, in this kind of usage, the participle itself or the clause must follow the object directly.

Further explanations relating to the ‘Participle clauses’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘Using participle clauses in English’ and could be helpful as well: