What Are Participle Phrases?A participle phrase is an adjective phrase headed by a participle. For example:
- Smiling from ear to ear, Anne opened the present. (The adjective phrase "Smiling from ear to ear" is headed by the present participle "smiling". It modifies "Anne.")
Table of Contents
- Examples of Participle Phrases
- Participle Phrases with Past Participles and Present Participles
- More Examples of Participle Phrases
- Perfect Participles
- Why Participle Phrases Are Important
- Test Time!
Examples of Participle PhrasesIn each of these examples, the participle phrase is shaded and the participle is in bold.
(Remember that participle phrases function as adjectives.)
- Peering over the top of his glasses, her tutor shook his head. (The participle phrase describes "her tutor.")
- Cracked from top to bottom, the mirror was now ruined. (The participle phrase describes "the mirror.")
- Look at the panther climbing the tree. (The participle phrase describes "the panther.")
- Sebastian reached across for the pipe, signalling his agreement with the chief's proposal. (The participle phrase describes "Sebastian.")
Participle Phrases with Past Participles and Present ParticiplesHere is a quick revision about participles. Remember that a participle is a verb form that can be used as an adjective. There are two types of participles:
- Present Participles (ending "-ing"). Here is an example of one as an adjective:
- The rising tide
- Past Participles (usually ending "-ed," "-d," "-t," "-en," or "-n"). Here is an example of one as an adjective:
- The risen cake
More Examples of Participle PhrasesIn each row in the table below, there is an example of a present participle being used as an adjective, a past participle being used as an adjective, and then one of those participles being used in a participle phrase. (As before, the participle phrases are shaded, and the participles are in bold.)
|The Present Participle
|The Past Participle
|Example of a Participle Phrase
|the rising sun
|the risen sun
|Rising out of the sea in front of us, the sun started to warm our faces.
|the printing document
|the printed document
|Printed on the very first press, the document was extremely valuable.
|the breaking news
|the broken news
|Broken by a government whistle-blower, the news is all over the media.
Perfect ParticiplesAlso, keep an eye out for participle phrases headed by "perfect participles." Perfect participles are formed like this:
"Having" + [past participle]
- Having seen
- Having taken
- Having read
Here are some more examples of perfect participles (shaded):
- Having read your book, I now understand your position.
- Having signed the document, Jason felt the weight of responsibility lift from his shoulders.
So, here are four good reasons to think about participle phrases a little more clearly.
(In all of these examples, the participle phrases are shaded, the head participles are in bold, and the nouns being modified are underlined.)
(Reason 1) Use a participle phrase to say two or more things about your subject tidily.A fronted participle phrase can be used to create a sentence structure that lets you say two or more things about a subject efficiently.
- Communicating well upwards, downwards and laterally, John has managed expectations across the program and ensured that all projects remain oriented towards the program objective. (The participle-phrase-upfront structure has allowed three observations about John to be shoehorned into one sentence.)
- Having displayed a cooperative spirit from the outset, John has become a role model for those seeking to share research ideas and techniques. (Here, it has allowed two observations about John to be recorded in a chronologically tidy way.)
(Reason 2) Punctuate your participle phrases correctly.Here are some general guidelines to help with correctly placing and punctuating a participle phrase.
(Guideline 1) When a participle phrase is at the front of a sentence, offset it with a comma and put the noun being modified immediately after the comma.
- Removing his glasses, the professor shook his head with disappointment.
- Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality. (Playwright Oscar Wilde)
- The yellow Ferrari, unregistered in the UK and probably stolen in France, was used as the get-away car.
(Guideline 3) When a participle phrase is at the end of your sentence and not immediately after its noun, offset it with a comma to help show that it's not modifying whatever is to its left.
- The boys loved their boxing gloves, wearing them even to bed.
(Reason 3) Avoid dangling modifiers, especially when using fronted participle phrases.Dangling modifiers are most commonly seen in sentences starting with participle phrases. (A dangling modifier is an error caused by failing to use the word that the modifier is meant to be modifying.)
- Having taken the antimalarial tablets religiously, the malaria diagnosis came as a shock. (The shaded text is a participle phrase headed by a perfect participle. It's meant to be an adjective to a noun (or a pronoun), but that noun doesn't feature in the sentence. That's why nothing is underlined.)
- Overcome by emotion, the whole speech was delivered in two- and three-word bursts. (The shaded participle phrase is meant to be an adjective to a noun, but the noun is missing. That's why nothing is underlined.)
- Having taken the antimalarial tablets religiously, Sarah was shocked by the malaria diagnosis.
- Overcome by emotion, he delivered the whole speech in two- and three-word bursts.
(Reason 4) Avoid misplaced modifiers when using participle phrases.With a dangling modifier, the noun being modified is missing. With a misplaced modifier, the noun being modified is too far away. To avoid a misplaced modifier, make sure it's obvious which noun (or pronoun) your participle phrase is modifying. Often, context will tell your readers which noun the modifier belongs to, but a misplaced modifier will – at the very least – cause a reading stutter and portray you as a clumsy writer. Sometimes, a misplaced modifier can lead to your sentence being ambiguous.
- The meerkats are acutely aware of the eagles, scurrying from burrow to burrow. (This is not wrong technically (see Reason 2: Guideline 3 above), but it is clumsy and potentially ambiguous – if you knew nothing about meerkats or eagles. Note also that if the comma were missing, this sentence would definitely be wrong because it would mean "the eagles that are scurrying from burrow to burrow" (see Reason 2: Guideline 2 above).)
- Tattered but not ripped, Lee handed the ticket to the doorman. (This is clumsy and potentially ambiguous.)
- Tim saw David Attenborough, filming the leatherback turtles for Blue Planet. (This is clumsy. There are better ways to avoid ambiguity than relying on that comma.)
- Scurrying from burrow to burrow, the meerkats are acutely aware of the eagles.
- Lee handed the ticket, tattered but not ripped, to the doorman.
- When he was filming the leatherback turtles for Blue Planet, Tim saw David Attenborough. (Rewording your sentence is often a good idea.)