English Participle Phrases


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Quick Tips:

A participle is a form of the verb that is used together with another verb to form certain tenses, or alone as an adjective.

Examples

In the following sentences the participle is used together with a helping verb to form progressive and perfect tenses (the participle is in bold, the helping verb is underlined):
  • She is working tonight.
  • You were sleeping when I arrived.
  • We have eaten dinner already.
  • They had left before the party ended.
In the following sentences the participle is used alone as an adjective (the participle is in bold):
  • The book is not boring at all.
  • It's so annoying when she does that.
  • He's a bit confused now.
  • I'm so excited!

What is a participle phrase?

A participle phrase is a group of words in a sentence that acts like an adjective and starts with a participle. In other words, it includes the participle and the words related to it.

It usually follows the noun or pronoun which it describes.

Examples (the participle phrase is in bold, the participle is underlined, the noun or pronoun which the participle describes is red):
  • We saw the rock falling down the hill.

  • Taking off his hat, Sam entered the room.

  • People taken hostage experience great stress.

  • Being a translator, Jim is fluent in both English and French.

  • Having been there, Monica knew the truth.

  • The dog barking behind the fence was big and scary.

  • John found his sister sleeping on the couch.

  • The person chosen to represent us will leave tomorrow morning.

  • Falling down the rabbit hole, Alice thought about her life.


Correct usage of participle phrases

Location

You should place the participle phrase as close as possible to the noun or pronoun it describes. You should also clearly mention the noun or pronoun.

If you don't, the sentence becomes unclear and confusing.


Examples (the participle phrase is underlined, the noun or pronoun it describes is in bold):

  • Screaming with joy, Janet bounced up and down.
    ("Janet" comes right beside "screaming with joy," so Janet is the one screaming with joy.)

  • Bouncing up and down, the ball made a series of sounds.
    ("The ball" comes right beside "bouncing up and down," so the ball is the one bouncing up and down.)

  • Bouncing up and down, Janet had the ball.
    ("Janet" comes right beside "bouncing up and down," so in this sentence Janet is the one bouncing up and down.)

    English Participle Phrases

Here are some incorrect examples (the participle phrase is underlined, the noun or pronoun it describes is in bold):

  • Incorrect: Lying on the grass, the stars sparkled above us.
    (This sentence actually tells us that the stars were lying on the grass, which is not the case.)
  • Correct: Lying on the grass, we looked at the stars that sparkled above us.

  • Incorrect: Beaten up beyond repair, my brother sold his car.
    (This sentence actually tells us that my brother was beaten up beyond repair, which is not the case.)
  • Correct: Beaten up beyond repair, the car was sold by my brother.

  • Incorrect: Smiling to herself, the cake was baking in the oven.
    (The noun/pronoun that the participle phrase describes is completely missing. The sentence is not clear.)
  • Correct: Smiling to herself, Daisy put the cake in the oven.
English Participle Phrases


Punctuation – at the beginning of a sentence

When a participial phrase comes at the beginning of a sentence, you should use a comma after it.

Examples (the participle phrase is underlined):

  • Thrown through the window, the rock fell on the floor.
  • Running out the door, I forgot to turn off the light.
  • Eating all that candy, Sarah became extremely fat.
  • Holding all these bags, Susan couldn't see a thing.

    English Participle Phrases


Punctuation – at the end of a sentence

If the noun/pronoun that the participle phrase describes is right before it – don't use a comma.

Examples (the participle phrase is underlined, the noun/pronoun it describes is in bold):
  • We saw Robert fixing his car.
  • I found my cat sleeping on my pillow.
  • You noticed him taking the bus.
  • They heard Helga singing joyfully.

    English Participle Phrases


If the noun/pronoun that the participle phrase describes is NOT right before it – use a comma.

Examples (the participle phrase is underlined, the noun/pronoun it describes is in bold):
  • Kelly thanked Paul, touched by his generosity.
  • We ate in silence, worried about the future.
  • Mark brought a small gift, encouraged by the news.
  • They sang happily, forgetting the past and looking forward to the future.

    English Participle Phrases


Punctuation – in the middle of a sentence

Essential participle phrase

An essential participle phrase gives us information that is necessary to the meaning of the sentence. It wouldn't be complete without it.

In such cases, do not use commas before and after the participle phrase.

Examples (the participle phrase is underlined):
  • The athlete winning the race will get the award.

    The same sentence without the participle phrase would be:
    The athlete will get the award.

    This sentence alone, without any additional explanation, may be considered incomplete in meaning (too general). We can't know who that person is.

    Therefore, the participle phrase is an essential part of the sentence, and we don't put commas around it.

  • The woman struck by the ball is my boss.

    The same sentence without the participle phrase would be:
    The woman is my boss.

    This sentence alone, without any additional explanation, may be considered incomplete in meaning (too general). We can't know who that person is.

    Therefore, the participle phrase is an essential part of the sentence, and we don't put commas around it.

    English Participle Phrases

Non-essential participle phrase

By "non-essential" participle phrase we mean a participle phrase that is not completely necessary. The sentence will be understood without it.

In such cases, use commas before and after the participle phrase.

Examples:
  • Mike, swinging his arms, passed the finish line and won the race.

    The same sentence without the participle phrase would be:
    Mike passed the finish line and won the race.

    This sentence alone, without any additional explanation, is quite clear. We know who we are talking about.

    Therefore, the participle phrase is not an essential part of the sentence, so we should put commas around it.

  • Monica, struck by the ball, fell to the ground.

    The same sentence without the participle phrase would be:
    Monica fell to the ground.

    This sentence alone, without any additional explanation, is quite clear. We know who we are talking about.

    Therefore, the participle phrase is not an essential part of the sentence, so we should put commas around it.

    English Participle Phrases

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