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Participles are the fruit salad of the English language. Okay, they’re not delicious, and you don’t take them to picnics. But they do assume numerous forms for a powerful little verb. Because they can be verbs, adjectives, perfect form, and progressive, many people have a hard time pinning down exactly what they are.

 

If you are confused about what precisely a participle is, you’re in the right place! This post contains all the significant rules (and a couple of the small, random ones) and will have you seamlessly, including the correct participles in your writing in no time.

Let’s get started!

What is a Participle?

Before we dig into all of the different forms of participles, we should probably define them first. A participle is a word that is derived from a verb but can function as an adjective or part of a verb phrase to create a verb tense. 

A participle will use a verb (like jumping) but will assume a different role in the clause for jumping to conclusions. 

Active vs. Passive Form

There is one more thing we should cover, and that’s the difference between active and passive forms. Active voice is the preferred form in writing, which is when the subject of the sentence is performing the action. Passive voice the subject receives the action.

The passive voice usually uses more words, can be vague, and requires too many prepositional phrases to move the writing forward.

In the case of participle clauses, there are certain forms (like past participle clauses), that allow the use of passive voice.

Present Participle Clauses

A present participle clause has many jobs. At its core, when you add an –ing to the base of the verb (that is also a subject), you will create a present participle.

Present participles always end in –ing. They appear in three different scenarios, present progressive, past progressive, and future progressive tense.

  • Present Progressive: He is getting dressed.
  • Past Progressive: He was getting dressed an hour ago.
  • Future Progressive:  He will be getting dressed in 20 minutes.

Each of these forms is correct in terms of the present participle rules; however, there are other rules to consider when using present participles clauses.

  • An action that happens simultaneously with an action in the main clause.
Chris ran into his best friend while he was picking up groceries. 
She was sitting at her desk when her phone rang. 
  • To add information about the main clause.
While picking up groceries, Chris ran into his best friend. 
As she was sitting at her desk, her phone rang. 
  • An action that happens just before another event.
I opened the envelope, and my acceptance letter was sitting inside. 
Glancing in my rearview mirror, my blinker was blinking.
  • An action that is a result of another action.
When I left the room, the crowd resumed talking. 
As the roller coasted peaked, the riders were screaming in ecstasy. 
  • The reason for having action in the main clause.
Having exhausted all of her options, Cheri called the doctor. 
Working as a performer, I get to meet a lot of cool celebrities.

One note: A present participle can replace an active voice finite relative clause. The noun before the participle is the force of action.

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Past Participle Clauses

  • To add information about the subject of the main clause
Even with his sunglasses on, the sun was too bright. 
Worried by the news, he called the doctor. 
  • It is used to emphasize an action that precedes another.
Stressed about failing her driving exam, she practiced driving in the school parking lot with her dad. 
Excited by the opportunity, he happily accepted the promotion. 
  • To use instead of an if condition.
Had she gone to the doctor, she could’ve gotten a prescription. 
Had it been important to him, he would’ve studied for the test. 

 

Perfect Participle Clauses

Perfect participle clauses demonstrate an action that was finished before the main clause. This is a sequential clause and can be written in either active or passive form.

Having taken a shower, I dried my hair. 
Having taken a walk, I got all my steps in for the day. 

If the two events do not immediately follow each other or if the first action happens over some time, you should use the perfect participle instead of the present participle.

Having read the book before, I knew all the answers on the reading quiz. 

 

Participle Clauses after Conjunctions and Prepositions

It is common for participle clauses to include words ending in –ing. These words generally follow conjunctions and prepositions such as before, after, instead of, on, since, when, while, etc. 

Before swimming, you need to shower off. 
Instead of sleeping, you should come out with us. 

 

Become a Participle Expert

The world of participles is a complicated and vast concept that has a lot of rules and details. Do things like participles confuse you? Do they make it hard to write clear sentences that engage your reader? You’re not alone! These complex topics evade even the most fluent English speakers.

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One Final Note: Finite vs. Non-Finite Clauses

Participle clauses also make notes about if their clauses are finite or non-finite. Finite clauses must contain a verb, which will indicate which tense is being used. They can be either the main clause or a subordinate clause. Non-finite clauses have a verb that doesn’t indicate tense.

You typically will only see non-finite verbs in subordinate clauses. We must use context clues from the main clause to determine what the tense of the sentence is.

Conclusion


Participles in English are a way for a writer to more clearly articulate their thoughts to their reader. When we use them in writing, we can capture if we’re speaking in the present or past tense, and by transitioning the verbs into other functional parts of speech, we are transforming the words into thoughts that we can use in our writing.

Since we covered a lot, let’s review:

  • A participle is a verb that transforms into other parts of speech (like adjectives), through the use of adding -ing or -ed.
  • All participle formats are either written in the active or passive voice. Certain participle forms cannot be one or the other.
  • There are three types of participles clauses: Present, Past, and Present Perfect.
  • Present Participle Clauses work with the main clause to indicate events happening at the same time as the subject.
  • Past Participle Clauses work with the main clause to create a delay of time between the main event and a recent event.
  • Present Perfect Participle Clauses indicate the previous action has taken place before the main clause.
  • If you struggle to master the writing rule of the English language, check out ArgoPrep for their vast library of supplemental work.

Understanding the rules of the English language takes some time, but with a little work and using guides like this, you will be well on your way to writing essays that wow your friends and teachers!

 

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