Saturday, May 14, 2011

Participles and participle clauses

  • Participles as adjectives
  • Participle clauses after certain conjunctions and prepositions
  • Participle clauses after object complements with certain verbs
  • Participle clauses after there is, there are
  • Reduced relative clauses
  • Adverbial participle clauses
Tip - this is quite a mammoth lesson, so you might want to do it in stages. (It was certainly a bit of a marathon writing it!)


Introduction 1 - Click on all the present participles and the past participles in these sentences to underline them. If there's more than one participle, click on both of them. To undo, click again.

1She has a talking parrot
2What time are you meeting your parents?
3Anyone wanting more potatoes, just shout.
4We haven't used up all the the potatoes, have we?
5All those selected for a second interview, please follow me.
6Since moving to the country, we feel much healthier.
7Did you hear someone shouting just then.
8He walked into the café, wearing a red carnation and holding newspaper.
9I found an old lottery ticket while tidying up the house.
10Aren't you tired after your, long walk?
11Tired out after his long walk, he went straight to bed.
12He could feel something crawling up his leg.
a.As adjectives
b.In verb tense forms
c.After certain prepositions and conjunctions
d.After verbs of the senses
e.In reduced relative clauses (try adding who or which and perhaps changing the verb form)
f.In an adverbial participle cause

Introduction 2 - Try to match the participles you underlined with their uses. Enter the function letters (a-f) in the boxes. Don't worry if you have problems with these at this stage. All should come clear later.

A closer look 1 - participles

Types of participle

Together with infinitives, participles are sometimes called non-finite verb forms. As well as present and past participles there are some compound forms:
  • perfect - Having arrived early, we got the best seats.
  • continuous - Being employed in the textile industry, he knew all about materials.
  • perfect passive - Having been selected for the team, he was now a local hero.

Present participle or gerund?

Not all -ing forms are participles. When they act like a noun they are gerunds. Gerunds can function as the:
  • subject - Smoking (cigarettes) is bad for you.
  • object - I like reading (crime novels).
  • complement - My favourite form of exercise is cycling (in the forests).
Note that the gerund, though acting as a noun, is still a verb form and can take its own object and adverbial phrase.

Exercise 0a - Decide whether these -ing forms are participles or gerunds

1.Finishing his coffee he stood up.
2.Drinking too much coffee can be bad for you.
3.I really like drinking coffee after a meal.
4.Having finished his meal he made himself a coffee.
5.I try to buy coffee carrying the 'Fair Trade' label.
6.One thing I find therapeutic is grinding coffee by hand.

Participles as adjectives

  • Before a noun -
    Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain (song - The Cascades)
    Try sleeping with a broken heart (song - Alicia Keys)

  • After a linking verb -
    The children are feeling very excited about their visit to the circus.
    English grammar can be very confusing sometimes.
In particular, -ing and -ed participles can sometimes be confusing when used as adjectives. Look at these lines from the song 'Being Boring' by Pet Shop Boys
  • I would never find myself feeling bored
  • 'Cause we were never being boring
  • We had too much time to find for ourselves
The past participles bored, interested, excited etc. are used to say what someone feels.
The present participles boring, interesting, exciting etc. are used to describe the people or things that cause the feelings.

Ex 0b - Fill the gaps using the adjectives in the box.

interested   ·   surprising   ·   bored   ·   boring   ·   surprised   ·   interesting   ·   frustrating   ·   fascinated   ·   tired   ·   tiring   ·   frustrated   ·   fascinating
1.It's how hot it can get here in Summer.
2.I was really to hear the news. It was so unexpected.
3.I'm so . Let's go out and do something.
4.Trying to contact a help desk is so when they just put you on hold.
5.The kitten was totally when it saw itself in the mirror.
6.These physical exercises can be very .
7.That film was so . It was like watching paint dry.
8.Are you in natural history?
9.I find kittens totally . I could watch them playing for hours.
10.I get really when I can't solve a problem.
11.Do you find natural history ?
12.He was so he could hardly keep his eyes open.

A closer look 2 - participle clauses

1. Participle clauses are often used after certain conjunctions and prepositions. See note at the end.

Ex 1a - Fill the gaps using the words in the box.

While   ·   When   ·   After   ·   By   ·   On   ·   Since
1. eating our picnic, we walked along the river bank.
2. hearing the signal, we knew it was time to leave.
3. leaving university, he has had several jobs.
4. eaten for the first time, fresh coriander can taste a bit soapy.
5. turning this handle, you can start the machine working.
6. walking through the forest I saw some deer.
Participle clauses can also be used after some other conjunctions and prepositions
Onion bhaji (on the left) and Pakora (on the right)
Photo by Knowledge Seeker at Wikipedia

Ex 1b - Onion Bhaji. Fill the gaps using the participles in the box.

being   ·   doing   ·   stirring   ·   cooking   ·   browned
entertaining   ·   using   ·   cooked   ·   overheating
1.Whenever I like to serve onion bhaji, an Indian side dish.
2.As well as very easy to make, these are delicious.
3.And in spite of a bit of oil, they are quite light.
4.Before any thing else, chop the onions into rings and add them to some beaten eggs.
5.Add the flour, ground coriander and cumin seeds, well to combine.
6.Gently heat some oil in a deep-sided frying pan without the oil.
7.Instead of them in a frying pan, you could use a wok.
8.Fry the onion bhaji mixture until lightly , then turn them over and fry for a further 30 seconds.
9.Once , remove the bhaji and drain on kitchen paper.

2 Participle clauses can also be used as object complements:

a) after verbs of perception: see, hear, feel etc.

The pattern is verb of perception + object + participle clause
  • I saw him running away
  • I noticed a man acting suspiciously

Ex 2a - Fill the gaps using the participles in the box.

ringing   ·   setting   ·   taking   ·   trying
building   ·   coming   ·   falling   ·   driving
1.On the beach I could see a small boy sand castles.
2.Listen! Can you hear the bells from the village church.
3.She noticed a man the doors of all the cars parked in the street.
4.In the evening we watched the sun slowly behind the hills.
5.He could smell woodsmoke from the little cottage.
6.She felt a small hand hold of hers.
7.Just listen to the rain outside. It's bucketing down.
8.Will you look at that idiot on the wrong side of the road.

b) after the verbs find, get, have, make, catch

The pattern is the same: verb + object + participle clause

Ex 2b - Fill the gaps using a participle form of the verbs in the box.

understand   ·   wander   ·   walk   ·   work
1.I found him aimlessly along the canal.
2.He managed to get the radio again.
3.We'll soon have you up and again.
4.She can make herself pretty well in French.

3. Reduced relative clauses

Look at these reduced relative clauses using participles

1.Who is that man waving at us?
2.All the workers made redundant last month have now been found new jobs.
3.The money being collected will go to help a new orphanage

Ex 3a - Now make full relative clauses using who or which and the verb be

1. Who is that man waving at us?
2. All the workers made redundant last month ...
3. The money being collected will go ...

Rules for making reduced relative clauses

1. We can only make reduced relative clauses when the relative pronoun is the subject of the relative clause.

2. The present participle can replace various active tenses, not only present continuous

  • The train which is now arriving at Platform 3 is the 4.20 to Paddington.
    The train now arriving at Platform 3 is the 4.20 to Paddington

  • Anyone who wants a ticket for the Final see me.
    Anyone wanting a ticket for the Final see me.

  • People who arrived late were not allowed in until the interval.
  • People arriving late were not allowed in until the interval.

3. Single completed actions

When we talk about a single completed action in a defining relative clause, we cannot use an active participle:
  • The boy who fell off his bicycle broke his leg.
    The boy falling off his bicycle broke his leg.

4. When the event or action in the defining relative clause comes before that in the main clause.

In this case we can't use a reduced relative clause:
  • Trees which fell (falling) in the storm have been removed.
unless it is the cause of the event or action in the main clause:
  • Trees falling in the storm have resulted in several accidents.

5. -ing form + prepositional phrase

We can omit the present participle when it is followed by a prepositional phrase:
  • The people who were sitting at the back couldn't hear.
  • The people sitting at the back couldn't hear.
  • The people at the back couldn't hear.

Note Remember that when the relative pronoun is the object of a defining relative clause, we can omit (leave out) who, which or that

  • The children (who) I taught all became geniuses.
  • This is the hotel (which) I was telling you about.
  • They're going to have to sell the house (that) they bought only a year ago.

Exercise 3b - Where possible replace the underlined relative clauses with their shortest possible forms. Enter them into the boxes, as in the example.

  • Use a reduced relative clause where possible
  • If you can omit the participle altogether, do so. (1 question)
  • If you can't use a reduced relative clause but can omit the relative pronoun, do so.
  • If you can do none of these, enter the original clause (1 question).
0.The people who are crossing the street are trying to get a better view.
crossing the street
1.The woman who is talking to your mother is my aunt.
2.The man who is standing by the window is my uncle.
3.All those who do not need to buy tickets please go straight in.
4.The first vineyard which I ever saw was in Germany.
5.Wikipedia, which was launched in 2001, is one of the great internet successes.
6.Animals which share the savannah include wildebeest, zebras, gazelles and buffalo.
7.All the candidates who were selected were given a second interview.
8.All those who passed the test were given a second interview.
9.The abbreviation LOL, which stands for Laughing Out Loud, is now in the OED.
10.The bouquet was made from flowers which were grown locally.
11.This the man who I was talking to you about.
12.The man who won yesterday's lottery lives next door.

There is / there are

The expressions there are and there is are often followed by a participle clause, acting rather like a reduced relative.
  • There is a man (who is) washing his car.
  • There are some ducks (which are) swimming on the pond.
  • There is a hammock (which is) stretched between two trees.
We especially use this pattern when we are describing a scene.

Ex 3c Édouard Manet - Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe
Image from Wikipedia

Make present and past participles from the verbs in the box and type them into the appropriate gaps. (Mouse over the ones in blue for a definition)

suggest   ·   fill   ·   scatter   ·   have   ·   moor
bathe   ·   look   ·   sit   ·   wear
1.There are three people on the grass.
2.In the background there's a woman in a river.
3.And there is also a boat by the river.
4.In the main group there are two men a conversation.
5.And there's a woman not any clothes at the artist.
6.There are some clothes, presumably hers, about on the ground.
7.In the foreground there are various things they have had a picnic.
8.For example there is a basket half with fruit.

Notes for adverbial participle clauses

  • We can use a participle clause instead of a full adverbial clause when the idea condition, cause etc. is so strong that a conjunction (if, because etc) is unnecessary.
  • This use is often seen as rather formal.
  • The subject of the participle clause and main clause are usually the same (but see dangling participles below).
  • The participle clause having done something sometimes suggests that it was important that something was finished first, but it can also sometimes suggest cause.
  • We can use -ing clauses with verbs like be, have, wish, know . In these cases the participle clause usually expresses cause or reason.
    • Being from Normandy, she must know how to cook crèpes (pancakes).
    • Having an expensive car, my insurance is very high.
    • Not wishing to offend her, I told her it was a lovely dress.
    • I wasn't at all surprised at what he did knowing him as I do.

Exercise 4c - Replace these clauses suggesting a condition with adverbial participle clauses as in the example.

0.If you add it to pasta sauce , it makes the sauce very creamy.
Added to pasta sauce
1.When it is stored in a cool place the jam will keep for several months.
2.When you do it every day this exercise will help strengthen your leg muscles.
3.If you apply it to the face and arms the cream will protect them from insect bites.
4.If they are planted in early spring these vegetables can be harvested in the summer.
5.When you mix it with butter and water the flour forms a dough.
6.If you recharge them every day, the batteries should last a few years.

Exercise 4d - Match the beginnings and endings of these adverbial participle clauses suggesting a time connection.

1. Switching off the alarm clock
2. He was sitting in his favourite chair
3. Adding the water
4. Having finished his book
5. Looking over her shoulder
6. He was looking out of the window
7. Seeing her across the road
8. The child laughed happily
a)he looked around for something else to read.
b)clapping her hands with joy.
c)she saw someone was following her.
d)she started to stir the mixture.
e)totally engrossed in his crossword.
f)he jumped out of bed.
g)dreamily smoking a pipe and contemplating the scene.
h)he waved frantically.

Exercise 4e - Rewrite these sentences with adverbial participle clauses suggesting cause and result. Start with the word(s) given in brackets, as in the example.

Tip - The easiest way is to copy and paste the sentences into the boxes then edit them. But be careful not to include any extra spaces.
0.Because he was exhausted he went straight to bed.(Being ...)
Being exhausted he went straight to bed
1.She had given it to him as a present, so she was furious when he sold it. (Having ...)
2.I tripped up on the pavement and hurt my knee. (I tripped ...)
3.As we haven't much money, we are staying at home this year. (Not ...)
4.Because prices are so high, demand has fallen considerably. (Prices)
5.The rain fell all night and left the roads covered with water. (The rain fell ...)
6.As the doctor hasn't seen the test results yet, he can't make a diagnosis. (Not ...)

Dangling participles

I was going to say something here about dangling modifiers. These happen when the subject of the two clauses is different. Sometimes the meaning is quite clear, sometimes it is a bit ambiguous, sometimes it can have comic effects.
  • Crossing the road without looking, a red car knocked him down.
  • Woken up by all the noise, the room seemed very dark.
  • Running around and jumping with joy, he took his dog to the park.
But if I don't stop now the chances are this post will never get finished, so danglers will just have to wait. And in any case, they deserve a post to themselves. Well, together with misplaced modifiers, perhaps.

Is it a gerund, or is it a participle? -ing forms after prepositions

Note - -ing forms after prepositions, "can often be considered as either participles or gerunds - the dividing line is not clear" (Shaw - Practical English Usage). For anyone interested I've added my interpretation of why.
Let's take the sentence:
After eating our picnic we walked along the river bank.
One way of looking at is to say that eating our picnic is a gerund phrase, the object of the preposition after. (We could equally as well have used a noun - After our picnic, we ...)
But this gerund phrase is part of a longer prepositional phrase:
After eating our picnic
Prepositional phrases can act as adjectives or adverbs, and this one is acting as an adverb, modifying the verb walked. When did we walk? After eating our picnic. And with this adverbial function, the prepositional phrase, although containing a gerund, is acting more like a participle clause.
But the waters get even murkier. Look at this sentence:
After we had eaten our breakfast, we walked along the river bank.
The word after is now a conjunction, followed by a clause with subject, verb etc. And we can change this adverbial clause into a participle clause:
After eating our picnic we walked along the river bank.
Oops! We're back where we started. Hence the grey area. Most TEFL books will just treat these sentences as participle clauses, and have done with it, but you will occasionally see them referred to as gerund phrases.


This lesson is largely based on:
  • Practical English Usage - Michael Swan (Oxford)
  • Advanced Grammar in Use - Martin Hewings (Cambridge)
Although of course any errors will be mine.


Intro 1
  1. She has a talking parrot
  2. What time are you meeting your parents?
  3. Here is the magazine article I was talking about this morning.
  4. We haven't used up all the the potatoes, have we?
  5. All those selected for a second interview, please follow me.
  6. Since moving to the country, we've felt much healthier.
  7. Did you hear someone shouting just then.
  8. He walked into the café, wearing a red carnation and holding newspaper.
  9. I found an old lottery ticket while tidying up the house.
  10. Aren't you tired after your, long walk?
  11. Tired out after his long walk, he went straight to bed.
  12. He could feel something crawling up his leg.
Intro 2
  • 2, 4
  • 1, 10
  • 3, 5
  • 8, 11
  • 6, 9
  • 7,12
Ex 0 - 1. surprising, 2. surprised, 3. bored, 4. frustrating, 5. fascinated, 6. tiring, 7. boring, 8. interested, 9. fascinating, 10. frustrated, 11. interesting, 12. tired
Ex 1a - 1. After, 2. On, 3. Since, 4. When, 5. By, 6. While
Ex 1b - 1. entertaining, 2. being, 3. using, 4. doing, 5. stirring, 6. overheating, 7. cooking, 8. browned, 9. cooked
Ex 2a - 1. building, 2. ringing, 3. trying, 4. setting, 5. coming, 6. taking, 7. falling, 8. driving
Ex 2b - 1. wandering, 2. working, 3. walking, 4. understood
Ex 3a - 1. who is, 2. who were, 3. which is
Ex 3b - 1. talking to your mother, 2. by the window, 3. not needing to buy tickets, 4. I ever saw, 5. launched in 2001, 6. sharing the savannah, 7. selected, 8. passing the test, 9. standing for Laughing Out Loud, 10. grown locally, 11. I was talking to you about, 12. who won yesterday's lottery
Ex 3c - 1. sitting, 2. suggesting, 3. bathing, 4. moored, 5. conversing, 6. wearing, 7. looking, 8. scattered, 9. filled
Ex 4a
  1. Used sparingly, this product could last you a year.
  2. Having finished our homework, we went to the pub.
  3. He went to work today not wearing a tie.
  4. Having spent all their money on a new car, they couldn’t afford a holiday.
  5. Turning off the lights, he locked up the office.
  6. Not understanding the language, I tried to make myself understood using signs and gestures.
  7. He left the house a bit later than usual, just missing his train.
  8. Served with Holandaise sauce, poached eggs are delicious.
  9. I lay on the beach reading a book and watching the clouds go by.
  10. She wrote a brilliant essay, winning the school writing trophy.
  11. I turned to the Sudoko page, having already completed the crossword.
  12. Closing her book with a sigh, she got up to make herself a cup of coffee.
Ex 4b - 1. d, 2. b, 3. e, 4. c, 5. a, 6. c, 7. f, 8. d, 9. e, 10. f, 11. b, 12. a
Ex 4c - 1. Stored in a cool place, 2. Done every day, 3. Applied to the face and arms, 4. Planted in early spring, 5. Mixed with butter and water, 6. Recharged every day
Ex 4d - 1. f, 2. e, 3. d, 4. a, 5. c, 6. g, 7. h, 8. b
Ex 4e - 1. Having given it to him as a present, she was furious when he sold it., 2. I tripped up on the pavement hurting my knee., 3. Not having much money, we are staying at home this year., 4. Prices being so high, demand has fallen considerably., 5. The rain fell all night leaving the roads covered with water., 6. Not having seen the test results yet, the doctor can't make a diagnosis.

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You can make a teacher copy with answers by clicking on 'Show All'. Make sure you 'Clear All' before printing student copies. Or you can print normally and the answers will appear on a separate page (should be Page 14). The exercises should be on Pages 1-12. I strongly recommend doing a Print Preview first. You might want to change your margins and you certainly won't want to print every page.


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  2. And thank you. Encouraging comments like yours make it all worthwhile.

  3. why can i not say this; "He is the boy owning a porshe" ?

  4. Richard -

    Because the present participle carries a continuous meaning as well as functioning to reduce a relative clause. In this case, 'own' is not a dynamic verb that has a continuous form but instead denotes a state.

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