Participle Clauses

Introduction

Participle clauses are shortened dependent clauses that use a present participle or a past participle.

We use participle clauses very often in written English. In this way we can include a lot of information in a sentence without making it too long or complicated.

Example

Having washed her hair, Susan reached for the hair-dryer and scissors.

Holding the hair-dryer in her left hand, Susan cut her hair with the scissors in her right hand.

Blown to the right by the hair-dryer, her hair could easily be cut.

Having been cut, her hair looked strange.

Have you ever seen anyone cutting their hair this way?

Usage

We mostly use participle clauses in written language.

Participle clauses can be constructed using the present participle, the past participle, and the perfect participle.

  • With the present participle (ing-form) we show that both actions are taking place at the same time.
    Example:
    Holding the hair-dryer in her left hand, Susan cut her hair with the scissors in her right hand.

    Long form: Susan was holding the hair-dryer in her left hand and cutting her hair with the scissors in her right hand.

  • With the past participle we can shorten a passive clause.
    Example:
    Blown to the right by the hair-dryer, her hair could easily be cut.

    Long form: Her hair was blown to the right by the hair-dryer and could easily be cut.

  • We use the perfect participle to indicate that the action in the participle clause took place before the action in the main clause.
    In English, the perfect participle can express actions in both the active and the passive voice. For the active voice we use having + full verb as past participle, and for the passive we use having been + full verb as past participle.
    Active:
    Having washed her hair, Susan reached for the hair-dryer and scissors.

    Long form: After Susan had washed her hair, she reached for the hair-dryer and the scissors.

    Passive:
    Having been cut, her hair looked strange.

    Long form: After her hair had been cut, it looked strange.

Construction

  • There is no subject in a participle clause. The subject of the main clause is also the subject of the participle clause.
    Example:
    Having washed her hair, Susan reached for the hair-dryer and scissors.
  • The full verb is changed into a participle. We have to pay attention to whether the action in the participle clause takes place at the same time as the action in the main clause or before it, and whether we are using the active or the passive voice.
    Example:
    Holding the hair-dryer in her left hand, Susan cut her hair.
    (simultaneous action, active - present participle)
participle formexample
simultaneous actionactivepresent participle
(ing-form)
Holding the hair-dryer in her left hand, she cut her hair.
passivepast participle
(3rd verb form)
Blown by the hair-dryer, her hair could easily be cut.
sequential actionactiveperfect participle
(having + 3rd verb form)
Having washed her hair, she cut it.
passiveperfect participle
(having been + 3rd verb form)
Having been cut, her hair looked strange.
  • The conjunctions as, because, and since, as well as the relative pronouns who and which, are not used in the participle clause.
    Example:
    As the hair was blown to the right by the hair-dryer, it could easily be cut.
    → Blown to the right by the hair-dryer, the hair could easily be cut.
    Her hair, which has been cut, looks strange now.
    → Her hair, having been cut, looks strange now.
  • The conjunctions before and when are also used in the participle clause.
    Example:
    Before she cut her hair, she washed it.
    Before cutting her hair, she washed it.
  • The conjunctions after and while can either be used or not.
    Example:
    After she had washed her hair, she cut it.
    (After) having washed her hair, she cut it.

(for tips on constructing participles, see the chapter on Participles)

Participle Clauses with a Different Subject

In certain exceptional cases, the participle clause can have a subject that is not the same as the subject of the main clause. This is the case when a main clause has one of the following verbs plus an object:

feel, find, hear, listen to, notice, see smell, watch

In this case, the participle clause has to come directly after the object to which it refers.

Example:
Have you ever seen anyone cutting their hair this way?

Long form: Have you ever seen anyone who would cut their hair this way?

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