An Introduction to Participial Phrases

Participial phrases can be thought of as compressed independent clauses, subordinate clauses, or relative clauses. Participial phrases are considered a more advanced grammatical structure than clauses because they are more economical (shorter). They are not clauses because they don’t have a subject or a verb.

1. Independent clause > Participial phrase

  • Sales fell. They dropped from 10,000 to 8000 units per month.
  • Sales fell, dropping from 10,000 to 8000 units per month.

2. Subordinate clause > Participial phrase

  • Because he was given a 2nd chance. He did better on the exam.
  • Given a 2nd chance, he did better on the exam.

3. Relative clause > Participial phrase

  • One quarter of university graduates found part-time work, which was followed by a slightly smaller group who found full-time work.
  • One quarter of university graduates found part-time work, followed by a slightly smaller group who found full-time work.


Participles come in active voice and passive voice. In the examples above, #1 is in active voice while #2 and #3 are in passive voice. This will be covered in detail below.

Participial phrases do not have time information. The time information is carried by the independent clause, which has the main verb. Whether the context is past, present, or future time, the participial phrase construction is identical.

  • Past tense: Walking through the woods, we saw a deer.
  • Present tense: Walking through the woods, we see deer all the time.
  • Future: Walking through the woods, we will see deer.


Participial phrases are more flexible than relative clauses. They don’t always need to follow the rule that relative clauses must go directly after the idea they are related to; participial phrases can often be placed in more than one spot in a sentence.

Relative clause:

  • The patient, who was badly injured, was brought to the clinic.

Participial phrase:

  • The patient was brought to the clinic badly injured.
  • The patient was brought, badly injured, to the clinic.
  • Badly injured, the patient was brought to the clinic.


Note: Many texts refer to "present participial phrases" and "past participial phrases" whereas this text refers to "active voice participial phrases" and "passive voice participial phrases." Why? Because the participial phrase does not convey time information - it does not have a verb. The time information is conveyed through the conjugated verb in the independent clause, not in the participial phrase that begins each sentence. This is what also makes the grammar of participial phrases easy to remember - they don't change regardless of the tense of the rest of the sentence.


A participle is an active voice/passive voice adjective.

Participial phrases start with a participle, which is an adjective that is conjugated for active or passive voice.

Many adjectives do not have active/passive versions: big, black, strange

However, many adjectives that have a verb form also have active/passive forms:

exciting/excited

  • the exciting performer
  • the excited crowd

boring/bored

  • the boring teacher
  • the bored students

confusing/confused

  • a confusing lecture
  • a confused student

Source of experience vs the one having an experience:

  • If the participle comes before the cause of the feeling (e.g. the performance causes the feeling), it's in active voice.
  • If the participle comes before the one who is experiencing the feeling (the crowd, students, and victims), it's in passive voice.

A participial phrase is a transformation of an independent, subordinate, or relative clause.

Independent clause > participial phrase transformation process:

  1. Delete the subject.
  2. Delete any auxiliary verbs.
  3. Transform the verb into a participle.

Example 1

  • Sales fell. They dropped from 10,000 to 8000 units per month.
  • Sales fell, dropping from 10,000 to 8000 units per month.

Example 2

  • The two bar graphs compare the destinations of graduate and postgraduate students in the UK in 2008. The graphs exclude those who found full-time employment.
  • The two bar graphs compare the destinations of graduate and postgraduate students in the UK in 2008, excluding those who found full-time employment.

Example 3

  • Unlike for graduates, part-time work was a close second. It was chosen by 2535 individuals.
  • Unlike for graduates, part-time work was a close second, chosen by 2535 individuals.


Subordinate clause > participial phrase transformation process:

  1. Delete the subordinating conjunction. If the conjunction is while or after, we usually leave it alone. (There is a specific type of passive participial phrase that starts with "before" or "after": see Passive Voice Participial Phrases: After/Before + Being + Passive)
  2. Delete the subject.
  3. Delete any auxiliaries.
  4. Transform the verb into a participle.

Example

  • Because he was given a 2nd chance. He did better on the exam.
  • Given a 2nd chance, he did better on the exam.


Relative clause > participial phrase transformation process:

  1. Delete the relative pronoun.
  2. Delete any auxiliaries.
  3. Transform the verb into a participle.

Example

  • One quarter of graduates found part-time work, which was followed by a slightly smaller group who were classified as unemployed.
  • One quarter of graduates found part-time work, followed by a slightly smaller group who were classified as unemployed.


Multiple subordinate & relative clauses

  • After they had completed their studies, the largest group, which represented about 40% of those who didn’t go into full-time jobs, continued their education.
  • After completing their studies, the largest group, representing about 40% of those who didn’t go into full-time jobs, continued their education.

Active Voice Participial Phrases

“Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it.” (Vince Lombardi, legendary football coach)


This is the most common type of participial phrase. During the transformation, regardless of the tense of the original verb, the participle is simply the base _ing version with no auxiliary and no subject. In many cases, we leave the preposition.


Example 1

Subordinate clause (past tense) + Independent clause (past tense)                                        

  • After he got a raise, he bought himself a new car.

Participial phrase (no time information) + Independent clause (past tense)                      

  • After getting a raise, he bought himself a new car.


Example 2

Subordinate clause (present tense for future) + Independent clause (future)                 

  • After he gets a raise, he will buy himself a new car.

Participial phrase (no time information) + Independent clause (future)                               

  • After getting a raise, he will buy himself a new car.


Notice: The participial phrase is identical regardless of the time information in the independent clause.

Formula: After he got a raise/After he gets a raise > After getting a raise

  1. Remove the subject.
  2. Change the verb to an active participle: just add ing to the verb with NO auxiliary/helper verbs.

Despite the fact that… > Despite x _ing…

  • Despite the fact that X has several benefits, it's not as effective as Y.
  • Despite X having several benefits, it's not as effective as Y.


  • Despite the fact that X is a good product, it's not appropriate in this situation.
  • Despite X being a good product, it's not appropriate in this situation.

Dummy subject participial phrases: Despite the fact that there are

"There are" is a common dummy subject construction: "there" doesn't actually mean anything.

  • Despite the fact that there are a couple minor benefits to X, overall it's a poor idea.
  • Despite there being a couple minor benefits to X, overall it's a poor idea.

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