Participle clauses are formed by using either the present participle (verbs using the suffix -ing), past participles (the past tense of a verb), or perfect participles (the perfect form of a verb).

We can use a participle clause when the participle and the verb in the main clause have the same subject. Here’s an example:

  • Feeling tired, I had a nap.

The subject of ‘feeling tired’ and ‘I had’ is the same, so we can use a participle clause.

These types of clauses don’t have a specific tense. Instead, the tense is decided by the tense of the verb of the main clause.

When do we use a Participle Clause?

Participle clauses are often used in written texts, such as fiction, rather than our everyday speech. It is because they add more detail and meaning to the sentence, which is helpful for written texts. However, they are also perceived as formal, which is why they aren’t used in spoken language as often as in written texts.

With the above example, we’re much more likely to say, ‘I was feeling tired, so I had a nap’ when speaking out loud. For instance, you can easily see the participle clause example in a story. Despite this, it’s still important to learn how to structure a participle clause and how we can use them in writing.

When writing fiction, using a participle clause can help to add variety to your sentences and make things more exciting for the reader. In addition, they can add emphasis to the sentence.

Examples of Participle Clauses

To help you understand participle clauses even further, here are examples of each type of participle clause in the present, past and perfect tenses.

Each type of participle clause explains something different about the rest of the sentence.

Present Participle Clauses

Present participle clauses have a similar meaning to active verbs.

Gives the reason for an action.

  • Realizing she’d forgotten her homework, she quickly ran back home.

Gives the result of an action.

  • The runner sprinted across the finish line, leaving his competition in the dust.

Explains an action that happened at the same time as another action.

  • Handing back the map, I admitted we were lost.

Adds the information about the subject of the main clause.

  • Twinkl makes lots of valuable resources, helping those who teach.

Past Participle Clauses

Past participle clauses usually have a passive meaning.

With a similar meaning to ‘if.’

  • Watered the right amount, plants can grow big and tall. (with past participle clause)
  • Plants can grow big and tall if you water them with the right amount. (used with ‘if’)

Gives the reason for an action.

  • Frightened by the noise, she turned on the light.

Gives information about the subject of the main clause.

  • Mentored by her father, she was a chess expert.

Perfect Participle Clauses

Using the perfect tense in a participle clause shows that the action described in the participle clause is finished before the action in the main clause.

  • Having settled her nerves, she walked onto the stage.
  • Having eaten already, he declined the food.
  • Having bought their tickets in advance, they headed straight into the cinema.

After Conjunctions and Prepositions

Participle clauses, especially ‘-ing,’ often come after conjunctions and prepositions. The most common ones we use are:

  • before;
  • after;
  • instead of;
  • on;
  • since;
  • while;
  • when;
  • despite.

Here are some examples of how to use these conjunctions and prepositions before a participle clause:

  • Before exercising, you should do a warm-up.
  • After searching for an hour, I found my glasses.
  • Instead of washing up by hand, use the dishwasher.
  • On arriving at the library, she went to return her books.
  • Since reading the novel, he had felt inspired to write for himself.
  • While learning a new language, it’s important to practice speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
  • It would help if you always remembered to wear suncream when going to the beach.
  • Despite hearing his warning, she went ahead with it anyway.

Participle Clauses with a Different Subject

In some exceptional cases, a participle clause can have a different subject from the one in the main clause. It is used when the verb has one of the following verbs plus an object:

  • Feel, find, hear, listen to, notice, see, smell, and hear

Here is an example:

  • Do you know of anyone learning Spanish at the moment?

‘You’ is the subject of the main clause; however, ‘anyone’ is the subject of the participle clause.

Participle Clauses Replacing a Relative Clause

A present participle clause can replace a relative clause used in the active voice.

  • The girl, who was in the library, was doing her homework. → The girl in the library was doing her homework.

A past participle clause can replace a relative clause used in the passive voice.

  • We’ve eaten all the cookies that we baked this morning. → We’ve eaten all the cookies we baked this morning.
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