Participle phrases in English/ Participial phrase

Welcome to another class, my smart brains! Today, we will master participle phrases in English. Participle phrases confuse many students, and I don’t like that. So, we will master every aspect of participle phrases.

Participle phrases are meant to decorate our sentences with information. But before we directly jump into them, we must know what participles are.

What is a participle in English?

A participle in English is a verb form that works as an adjective in a sentence. When we talk about participles, we often refer to these two types of participles:

  1. Present participle: it is a progressive form of a verb, V+ing, that works as an adjective in a sentence. Ex – running train, crying man, winning team, etc.
  2. Past participle: it is a past participle form of a verb, V3, that works as an adjective in a sentence. Ex – demotivated man, fixed match, broken glass, etc.

Examples of participles in a sentence

  • The crying man is my neighbor.
    (modifying the noun man)
  • He is a very demotivated person.
    (modifying the noun person)
  • I can’t catch a running train.
    (modifying the noun train)
  • It was a fixed match.
    (modifying the noun match)
  • When will you fix the broken window?
    (modifying the noun window)
  • The winning team will get 1 million dollars.
    (modifying the noun team)

So, now we know what participles are in English. Let’s master what participle phrases are! Participle phrases are also known as participial phrases. So don’t get confused when you see participial phrases in place of participle phrases.

What are participle phrases/participial phrases?

A participle phrase is a group of words that starts with a participle and modifies a noun or a pronoun in a sentence, like an adjective or an adjective phrase does. So, a participle phrase is nothing but a type of adjective phrase. Don’t let the participle trick you; a participle looks like a verb but functions as an adjective. We saw that in the above examples.

Click to check a complex definition of a participle by Wikipedia.

participle phrase examples
participle phrase examples

Examples of participle phrases/participial phrases

  • Played more than a million times on Youtube, my latest song is doing amazing.

    (Played more than a million times on Youtube is the past participle phrase, starting with the past participle played and describing the noun my latest song.)
  • Motivating the class and giving them clarity about life, Ashish broke down.

    (The past participle phrase is describing the subject Ashish with two events. Using a participle phrase allows you to describe a noun with more details and a clear description.)
  • The little girl diagnosed with cancer has written a book about her life.

    The participle phrase is modifying the noun girl, telling us which girl the speaker is talking about.
  • The girl dancing in the rain is the one I have a crush on.

    (Dancing in the rain is the present participle phrase, modifying the noun girl and telling us which girl the speaker is referring to.)
  • People living in Delhi are always complaining about the work the government does.

    (Living in Delhi is the present participle phrase that’s identifying the meaning of the noun people. Not all the people in the world are always complaining; people living in Delhi are. The participle phrase helps us know who these people are.)

How to form a participle phrase?

A participle phrase can be followed in the following ways:

  1. Participle + object of the participle
  2. Participle + object of the participle + modifiers
  3. Participle + modifiers

1. Participle + object of the participle

The guy beating the old man is crazy.

Participle phrase: beating the old man
Present participle: beating
The object of the participle: the old man

2. Participle + object of the participle + modifiers

The guy beating the old man with no mercy is crazy.

Participle phrase: beating the old man with no mercy
Present participle: beating
The object of the participle: the old man
The modifying phrase: with no mercy (telling how the action happened)

3. Participle + modifiers

The girl dancing in the rain is the one I have a crush on.

Participle phrase: dancing in the rain
Present participle: dancing
The modifying phrase: in the rain (telling the place of the action)

Types of participle phrases/participial phrases

We have two types of participle phrases:

1. Present participle phrase
2. Past participle phrase

Let’s start with present participle phrases first.

Present participle phrases

A present participle phrase starts with a present participle, a verb ending with ‘ing’, and works as an adjective. Let’s look at some examples!

Examples of present participles:

  • The guy hiding behind the door is from a different class.

    (Hiding behind the door is the present participle phrase, starting with the present participle hiding and modifying the noun guy, telling us which guy the speaker is referring to. The entire phrase is working as an adjective.)
  • The girl dancing in the rain is the one I have a crush on.

    (Dancing in the rain is the present participle phrase, modifying the noun girl and telling us which girl the speaker is referring to.)
  • People living in Delhi are always complaining about the work the government does.

    (Living in Delhi is the present participle phrase that’s identifying the noun people. Not all the people in the world are always complaining; people living in Delhi are. The adjective phrase helps us know who these people are.)
  • Watching from the balcony, Jyoti enjoyed the game.

    (The present participle phrase is coming at the beginning of a sentence, describing the subject Jyoti. When a participle phrase comes at the beginning of a sentence, it is separated from the rest of the sentence using a comma after them.)
  • Motivating the class and giving them clarity about life, Ashish broke down.

    (The present participle phrase is describing the subject Ashish with two events. Using a participle phrase allows you to describe a noun with more details and a clear description.)
  • Joe Rogan, living the life of a martial artist, is the owner of JRE, the most popular podcast on the internet.

    (The present participle phrase is offset using two commas in this example as it gives nonessential information about the noun it describes: Joe Rogan.)

Past participle phrases

Past participle phrases start with a past participle and modify a noun or a pronoun. Let’s look at some examples!

Examples of past participles:

  • Played more than a million times on Youtube, my latest song is doing amazing.

    (Played more than a million times on Youtube is the past participle phrase, starting with the past participle played and describing the noun my latest song.)
  • Your friend died in a car accident came in my dream yesterday.

    (The past participle phrase is describing the subject your friend and identifying it for us. Not any friend of yours came in my dream, the one who died in a car accident did. Since the past participle phrase is essential to identify the pronoun, it is not offset using commas.)
  • Considered the best application for learning English, my English learning application just crossed 1 billion downloads.

    (The past participle phrase is modifying the noun phrase my English learning application. When a participle phrase at the beginning of a sentence, we must use a comma after it.)
  • The little girl diagnosed with cancer has written a book about her life.

    (The past participle phrase is modifying the noun girl, telling us which girl the speaker is talking about.)
  • The insurance company will not pay for everything destroyed by the fire.

    (The past participle phrase is modifying the pronoun everything, telling us what it includes. Since it is essential to identify the pronoun, it is not offset using a comma.)
  • I am planning to buy iPhone 11, rated 4.9 by the experts.

    (The past participle phrase is modifying the noun iPhone 11, but it is giving nonessential information about it, and that’s why it is separated from the rest of the sentence using a comma.)

Participle phrases and commas!

So we have used commas with some participle phrases, and with others, we have not. So, how do we know if we have to use commas with a participle phrase or not? Let’s understand this.

1. When a participle phrase comes at the beginning of a sentence, we must use a comma after it.

Motivating the class and giving them clarity about life, Ashish broke down.
Played more than a million times on Youtube, my latest song is doing amazing.

2. Generally, a participle phrase gives essential information and is not offset using commas when it comes after the noun or the pronoun it modifies. But when it gives nonessential information, use one or two commas depending upon its place in the sentence. Preparing you smart brains for every scenario! ūüėČ

Joe Rogan, living the life of a martial artist, is the owner of JRE, the most popular podcast on the internet.
I am planning to buy iPhone 11, rated 4.9 by the experts.

Why do we start a sentence with a participle phrase?

Participle phrases are used at the beginning of a sentence to set the stage for the noun or the pronoun it modifies. They tell us something about the subject (noun or a pronoun) they modify even before it comes.

  • Played more than a million times on Youtube, my latest song is doing amazing.
  • Motivating the class and giving them clarity about life, Ashish broke down.

See, we set the stage for the nouns these participle phrases are modifying.

Don’t misplace your participle phrases! ūüôĀ

You have understood what participle phrases are, and how to use them. Now, you need to be careful about where you place your participle phrase; placing it a little far away from the word it modifies can end up giving you a misplaced modifier. It’s like, in a dark room, you are making love to a girl that is someone else’s wife, thinking she is yours, and your girl is waiting for you in your room, unmodified. Interesting? Let’s look at some examples.

Downloaded by more than a million people, I felt great about my application.

(The participle phrase is sitting beside the subject I, appearing to be modifying it. Now, ask this question: can I be downloaded? No, right? So, this participle phrase is misplaced, but the sentence is still grammatically fine. It is just that it looks clumsy and ambiguous. People might consider this participle phrase to be modifying the subject I where it’s intended to modify the noun application.)

Broken into multiple pieces, Max took his phone to a mobile engineer.

(Again, the participle phrase seems to be modifying a wrong noun: Max.)

We are planning to start a business, motivated by Sadhguru.

(The participle phrase here seems to be modifying the noun business, which it’s sitting next to. Now, ask the same question: can a business be motivated? Is it a person? The participle phrase is intended to modify the subject we, but it seems to be modifying business.)

How to avoid misplacing your participle phrase?

The best way to do that is to place the participle phrases next to the word or words they modify. Let’s place them right.

I felt great about my application, downloaded by more than a million people.

Max took his phone, broken into multiple pieces, to a mobile engineer.

Motivated by Sadhguru, we are planning to start a business.


Dangling modifiers using participle phrases.

Dangling modifiers are modifiers that don’t have anything to modify in a sentence. Participle phrases can be dangling modifiers when used unnecessarily. Let me show you some examples.

  • Listening to the songs, the place started shaking.

    (Who was listening to the songs? The place? Do we have anything in the sentence that can listen to the songs? No, right? This is what a dangling modifier is; it dangles without its target.)
  • Felt offended, the movie was taken down.

    (The sentence does not have a word the participle phrase can modify. A movie can’t be offended.)

How to correct a dangling modifier?

There are two ways to correct a dangling modifier:

  1. Remove the participle phrase.
  2. Add a noun or a pronoun that the participle phrase can possibly modify.

Listening to the songs, I felt the place started shaking.
The place started shaking

Felt offended, the censor board took the movie down.
The movie was taken down.

Watch my Youtube video on the participial phrases:

Check out Yourdictionary and Grammarmonster for more examples (though unnecessary)!

Well, that’s all for today’s class, smart brains. I am sure we have mastered participle phrases and will be able to use them whenever needed. I will see you in some other class. Feel free to empower others by sharing the lesson. Feel free to ask your doubts. And feel free to correct typos if you see them. You have been amazing! Ashish is out!

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