Participle Clauses

Participle clauses are a kind of adverbial clause in that they give extra information (such as reasons, time, conditions, or results) to the sentence. They are often used in formal writing, and as such, they make a very useful addition to an IELTS essay.

What is a Participle Clause?

Put simply, a participle clause normally appears at the beginning of a sentence, using the present or past participle, but taking its subject in the following clause. The information in this clause must relate directly and obviously to the subject in the main clause.

For example,

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

As you will notice, there is no subject in the first clause. However, the subject appears at the beginning of the following clause – “China’s One Child Policy.” This could have been rewritten:

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

Thus, the participle clause has helped us combine two simple sentences into one complex sentence, while increasing the degree of formality in our writing. This is the main reason for using a participle clause.

How to Form a Participle Clause

A participle clause will begin with a present or past participle:

  • Unwilling to move to the cities, many old people are left in the countryside with little financial support.
  • Angered by the recent changes, many voters are turning against the president.

You can see that in these examples, the participles (“unwilling”= present participle; “angered”= past participle) refer directly to the subjects. Many old people are unwilling to move to the cities and many voters were angered by the recent changes.

IELTS Examples

Let’s look now at some applicable IELTS writing task 2 examples.

Question:

Many criminals commit crimes shortly after being released from prison.

What are the causes of this problem?

What are some solutions?

To this question, we have the opportunity to use participle clauses in many ways. Here are some examples:recidivism revolving door 300x207 - Participle Clauses

  • 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.

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.

Notes

Participle clauses are useful because they express information economically; however, the relationship between the parts of the sentence must be clear or else it can become confusing. Make sure that the first word in the sentence refers to the subject in the main clause or else you would end up with a dangling participle:

  • Causing a great deal of pollution, people often use cars to drive to work.
  • Causing a great deal of pollution, cars are still the main choice for people getting to work.
  • People often use cars to drive to work, although they cause a lot of pollution.

You should also avoid over-using participle clauses as this may sound unnatural and archaic.

Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and the founder/editor of Beatdom literary journal. He lives and works in rural China, and loves to travel. His other IELTS website is called IELTS Teaching.

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1 Comment

  1. I would call this type of phrase participle phrase, not participle clause because there is no subject in it. Besides, this post is not comprehensive on the participle phrase. It only mentions non-defining participle phrase but fails to address the defining one.

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