Participle Clauses in English Grammar

Introduction

Participle clauses use a present participle or a past participle to shorten a dependent clause. Participle clauses are very common in written English. They allow us to include information without making long or complicated sentences.

Learn how to use participle clauses in English grammar with Lingolia’s grammar rules and test your skills in the exercises.

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?

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Usage

Participle clauses are common in written language. We can use them to shorten active and passive sentences.

Active Sentences

Use the present participle (ing-form) to show that two 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.

Use the perfect participle to indicate that the action in the participle clause took place before the action in the main clause.

Example:
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 scissors.

Passive Sentences

We use the past participle to 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.

To Note

We use the perfect participle (having been + past participle) to stress that the action in the participle clause took place before the action in the main clause. However, this form is rarely used.

Example:
Having been cut, her hair looked strange.

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

Forming Participle Clause in English Grammar

  • 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 main 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)
  • In negative participle clause we put not befor the participle.
    Example:
    Not having any money, Susan decided to cut her hair herself.
participle formexample
active simulataneous action present participle
(ing-form)
Holding the hair-dryer in her left hand, she cut her hair.
sequential action perfect participle
(having + 3rd verb form)
Having washed her hair, she cut it.
passive simulateous and sequential actions past participle (3rd verb form)
Blown by the hair-dryer, her hair could easily be cut.
  • 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.
  • But, the conjunctions before and when are 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 more information about participles and their usage in English grammar see: 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?