Perfect Participle Phrases

What Are Perfect Participle Phrases?

A perfect participle phrase is an adjective phrase headed by "having" and a past participle. For example:
  • Having saved enough money, Sally bought her first car.
  • (The perfect participle phrase "Having saved enough money" is functioning like an adjective that modifies "Sally.")
A perfect participle phrase is used to emphasize that an action was completed before the main verb occurs. This is a key point. In this example, the action of saving was completed before the main verb ("bought") occurs.

It's a verbal, not a verb!

In a perfect participle, the past participle is formed from a verb, which is why we can talk about the action of the perfect participle (the action of saving in the example above). However, a participle is not a verb. It is a verbal, which is a verb form that does not function as a verb. These perfect participles all function as adjectives.

Table of Contents

  • Examples of Perfect Participle Phrases
  • Reminder of Participles
  • More Examples of Perfect Participle Phrases
  • Other Types of Participle Phrase
  • Why Perfect Participle Phrases Are Important
  • Test Time!
perfect participle phrase example

Examples of Perfect Participle Phrases

In each of these examples, the perfect participle phrase is shaded, the word "having" and the past participle are in bold, and the noun (pronoun or noun phrase) being modified is underlined.
  • Having learned the truth, she apologized to her daughter.
  • Having seen the movie, I decided to read the book.
  • Having studied hard, Maria past her English exam with ease.
  • Having received the invitation, my parents booked their flights to Australia.
Key Points:

(1) Do not forget that a perfect participle phrase emphasizes that an action has been completed before the main verb occurs.

(2) Do not forget that perfect participle phrases (like all participle phrases) function as adjectives.

Participle phrases typically sit at the start of a sentence and followed by a comma. When this sentence structure is used, the subject – which is always a noun, a pronoun or a noun phrase – must follow immediately after the comma.

Reminder of Participles

Here is a reminder about participles. A participle is a verb form that can be used as an adjective (e.g., the received gift) or to create a verb tense (e.g., I have received the gift). There are two types of participles:
  • (1) Present Participles. Present participles always end "-ing." Here are three examples of present participles used as normal adjectives:
    • The freezing water
    • The failing system
    • Her improving scores
    Notice that present participles are about ongoing actions.
  • (2) Past Participles. Past participles have different endings (usually ending "-ed," "-d," "-t," "-en," or "-n"). Here are three examples of past participles used as normal adjectives:
    • The frozen water
    • The failed system
    • Her improved scores
    Notice that past participles are about completed actions.

The Perfect Participle

The "perfect participle" features a present participle ("having") and a past participle. It is always used in a phrase. In other words, it cannot be used as a standalone adjective like a genuine participle.
Read more about participles.

More Examples of Perfect Participle Phrases

In each row of the following table, there is an example of a past participle being used as an adjective and then in a perfect participle phrase. (As before, the participle phrases are shaded, "having" and the past participles are in bold, and the nouns being modified are underlined.)
The VerbThe Present ParticipleExample of a Present Participle Phrase
to waterthe watered roseHaving watered the plants, he went to fetch the shears.
to finishthe finished articleHaving finished his homework, Jack went outside to play.
to cookthe cooked hamHaving cooked dinner, she asked Alan to set the table.

Other Types of Participle Phrase

The perfect participle phrase is just one type of participle phrase. There are three types:

(1) Perfect participle phrase

A perfect participle phrase is formed like this:

"Having" + [past participle] + the remainder

Example:

  • Having cleaned the house, Lisa ordered herself a pizza.
A perfect participle phrase emphasizes that the action in the phrase has been completed before the main verb occurs.

(2) Past participle phrase

A past participle phrase features a past participle:

Examples:

  • Driven by money, Sarah quit her job and moved to the city.
  • Strengthened by unity, the striking workers declined the company's pay offer.
  • Inspired by a true story, the book captivated readers from page one.
Remember. With a past participle phrase, the action of the participle occurs before the main verb. Read more about past participle phrases.

(3) Present participle phrase

A present participle phrase features a present participle:

Examples:

  • Running through the woods, Toni remembered the name of the film she had forgotten.
  • Peering over his glasses, the teacher gave John a disapproving look.
  • Pretending to read his newspaper, the businessman was clearly listening to the arguing couple.
With a present participle phrase, the action of the participle occurs at the same time as the main verb. In this example, "pretending" occurs at the same time as "glanced over." Read more about present participle phrases.

Why Perfect Participle Phrases Are Important

It is worth learning about perfect participle phrases because they are useful for creating efficient sentences (see Reason 1), and they are associated with some common writing errors (see Reasons 2, 3, and 4).

(Reason 1) Use a perfect participle phrase to load a sentence with information.

With a perfect participle phrase, you can say two or more things about a subject efficiently.
  • Having excelled in the entrance exams, Jonathan was invited to the CEO's office and offered a place on the fast-track program. correct tick
  • (This sentence structure has allowed three comments about Jonathan to be loaded into one sentence.)
This structure is useful for personal appraisals. Of course, you should not write every sentence in this style. However, used sparingly, this structure helps with sentence-style variety and allows you to load more information into fewer sentences.

(Reason 2) Punctuate your perfect participle phrases correctly.

Here are some general guidelines to help with correctly placing and punctuating perfect participle phrases.

(Guideline 1) When a perfect participle phrase is at the front of a sentence (described as a "fronted participle phrase"), offset it with a comma and write the subject of the sentence next.

  • Having reached the summit, the team checked their feet and unpacked their flasks. correct tick
(Guideline 2) When a perfect participle phrase follows its noun, use a comma only if the noun is not immediately before the phrase.
  • Jonathan was invited to see the CEO, having excelled in the entrance exams. correct tick
  • (In this example, a comma is required because the perfect participle phrase modifies "Jonathan." The comma helps with ensuring that readers do not think the phrase is modifying "the CEO.")
There is a little more to understand with comma placement, but this guideline will see you right for most scenarios. Read more about this issue on the page about restrictive (or essential) modifiers.

(Reason 3) Avoid dangling modifiers, especially when using a fronted perfect participle phrase.

A dangling modifier is a grammar error that occurs when the word being modified is missing.
  • Having learned the truth about her husband, he was asked to return home. wrong cross
  • (The shaded text is a perfect participle phrase. Here, it is positioned to modify "he," but that is an error. It is the wife who "learned the truth about her husband," but "she" is not mentioned in the sentence. Nothing is underlined in this sentence because nothing is being modified. The perfect participle phrase is dangling. The word it is supposed to be modifying is missing.)

Top Tip

To avoid a dangling modifier, assume that your perfect participle phrase is "dangling" (i.e., isn't modifying anything) until you've written the noun (or pronoun) it is modifying.
Here is a corrected version:
  • Having learned the truth about her husband, she asked him to return home. correct tick
  • (This is correct. The perfect participle phrase now modifies "she.")
Read more about dangling modifiers.

(Reason 4) Avoid misplaced modifiers when using perfect participle phrases.

With a misplaced modifier, the noun being modified is too far away from its modifier. To avoid a misplaced modifier, make sure it is clear to your readers which noun (or pronoun) your participle phrase is modifying. (Usually, context tells them which noun the modifier belongs to, but – even so – a misplaced modifier will cause a reading stutter and portray you as a clumsy writer. Also, a misplaced modifier often creates ambiguity.
  • The tree leant on the lamppost, having fallen in the storm. wrong cross
  • (This is clumsy if the storm felled the tree and not the lamppost. There are better ways to avoid ambiguity than relying on the comma.)
The best way to avoid a misplaced modifier with a perfect participle phrase (or any modifier) is to put it next to the noun it's modifying. Let's fix the example above.
  • Having fallen in the storm, the tree leant on the lamppost. correct tick
Read more about misplaced modifiers.

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.