In today’s grammar lesson, we are going to learn all about participle clauses. I will show you what a participle clause is, how to form one, and how to avoid common errors.

What is a Participle Clause?

A participle clause is a group of words containing a present, past, or perfect participle, whose subject can be found in another clause. For example:

  • Started in 1979, China’s One Child Policy was aimed at reducing the rate of population growth.

As you can see, there is no subject in the first clause. The subject (China’s One Child Policy) appears at the beginning of the following clause. This could have been rewritten:

  • China’s One Child Policy started in 1979. It was aimed at reducing the rate of population growth.

Thus, this participle clause has helped us combine two simple sentences into one complex sentence. This is the main reason for using a participle clause.

How to Form a Participle Clause

The most important thing to note is that the subject of both clauses should only appear once. It is the subject of both verbs even though it won’t appear in front of the verb in the participle clause. For example:

  • Angered by the recent changes, many voters are turning against the president.

The two verbs (angered, are turning) apply to the same subject (many voters). We could have re-written this as:

  • Many voters were angered…
  • Many voters are turning against…

However, this would be repetitive. To express these ideas in a more economical way, we can use a participle clause.

Types of Participle Clause

There are three types of participle clause: past, present, and perfect. These refer to the type of participle used.

Present Participle Clauses

A present participle is a verb that has been put into the -ing form: walking, dancing, running, eating, cooking, fixing, etc.

  • Running from the rabid dog, the little girl tripped and fell.

Here, the present participle was “running” and the subject was “the little girl.” This is more efficient than saying:

  • The little girl was running from the rabid dog. The little girl tripped and fell.

Here are some more examples:

  • Playing his guitar as loud as he could, James managed to annoy his parents.
  • Waiting for her brother to arrive, Sarah looked through old photos on her phone.
  • Washing the dishes after a big meal, the man wished he owned a dishwasher.
present participle clauses

Past Participle Clauses

A past participle clause includes the past participle form of a verb. For example: walked, run, eaten, cooked, fixed, etc.

  • Eagerly awaited by the public, the book has smashed all pre-sale records.

This could also be written:

  • The book is eagerly awaited by the public. The book has smashed all pre-sale records.

Note that we don’t necessarily need the participle to be the first word in the clause. In this case, the verb is preceded by an adverb.

Here are some more examples:

  • Badly bruised by the fall, he stood up and continued on his way.
  • Devastated by the news, she faced a long and painful day.
  • Filled with holiday cheer, he spent his salary on gifts for the local children.

Perfect Participle Clauses

These clauses use perfect participles, such as having walked, having run, having eaten, having cooked, having fixed, etc. For example:

  • Having finished his speech, he sat down.

Here, the subject was “he.” This could be re-written:

  • He finished his speech. He sat down.

More examples:

  • Having waited all day, she finally gave up and went home.
  • Having introduced himself, Sean listened to his host’s story.
  • Having been all over France, they were keen to explore the neighbouring countries.

Notes on Use

Participle clauses are generally quite formal and using them in spoken English can sound a little pretentious. Likewise, if you use them too often in your written work, it can sound strange and even slightly archaic. A good writer will incorporate them sparingly, using them for effect. As I have said, their primary purpose is to make writing economical by removing unnecessary parts.

Not all sentences can be reduced to a participle clause and you still need to observe the grammatical requirements of the main clause.

Clause Order

You can see that all of my examples above put the participle clause before the main clause. This is most common but it is also possible to put the participle clause after the main clause.

To take a previous example, we can invert this sentence:

  • Having been all over France, they were keen to explore the neighbouring countries.
  • They were keen to explore the neighbouring countries, having been all over France.

The meaning is basically the same.

Conjunctions and Prepositions

We commonly use participle clauses with conjunctions or prepositions at the start. For example:

  • Before leaving the party, she said goodbye to her hosts.
  • On meeting her future mother-in-law, she felt a sense of impending dread.
  • Despite having no interest in it, Carl pretended to enjoy classical music to impress his boss.
  • Whilst awaiting his release, the prisoner looked out the window.

Notice that all these examples use the present participle form. It is uncommon to find examples using the past or perfect forms.

Participle Clauses and IELTS

Let’s now look at some examples that might appear in an IELTS essay.


Many criminals commit crimes shortly after being released from prison.

What are the causes of this problem?

What are some solutions?

An essay in response to this question might contain the following sentences:

  • Unable to find a job, the former prisoners return to a life of crime.
  • Finding life on the outside difficult, these people turn to an easy opportunity for money.
  • Presented with few options, prisoners sometimes look to petty crime to survive.
  • Shunned by society, ex-prisoners struggle to make a living.
  • Knowing that they have to work harder than most people to get a job, some of these men turn back to a life of crime in order to get an income.
  • Having spent years in prison, many people find that life outside those walls can be intimidating.

Note that in the final example I said “knowing.” The verb “know” is considered non-continuous and so we seldom use it with an “-ing” ending. However, with participle clauses you can add “-ing” to non-continuous verbs:

  • Being unable to provide for their families, many recently released prisoners feel a sense of shame.
  • Believing that they are unlike to succeed any other way, some prisoners look to a life of crime as their only option.

Dangling Participles

Finally, let’s look at a common mistake called a dangling participle. By now, you will have seen that a participle clause should take the subject that appears in the main clause of the sentence. Put simply, a dangling participle is when the subject of the main clause is not the subject of the participle clause. For example:

  1. Causing a great deal of pollution, people often use cars to drive to work.
  2. Causing a great deal of pollution, cars are still the main choice for people getting to work.

In the first sentence, the subject (people) was not right for the participle clause. It was not people who caused pollution here. It was cars. To fix this, we should make “cars” into the subject of both clauses.