Writing and Grammar Skills Appendix

Grammar Skills: Participle Phrases

Participial phrases are magical words or phrases that also help you combine sentences, better describe details, and improve your writing! They are verbs that when “ed” or “ing” are added (or past participle verb), it becomes an adjective. (Not a gerund–this is when we add “ing” to a verb and it becomes a noun. That’s different!)

  • When I was 12, I suffered from a broken heart. (My heart was broken.)
  • I bought myself a used car. (I bought myself a car that was used.)
  • Don’t wake up the sleeping baby! (Don’t wake up the baby who is sleeping!)

In the sentences in the parentheses above, you can see that the original sentence uses a participle. Present participles (ing) are used with active meanings, and usually in progressive verb tenses. Past participles (ed or past participle form verbs) are used for passive meanings and are usually used for passive verbs tenses. However, participles by themselves can act as a kind of adjective to help describe an action that either a noun is doing or receiving. This meaning can be seen in the example sentences above.

Which sentences in the examples sound better? Probably the ones with the participle phrases. Why should we use them?

  • It’s another way to vary our sentence style. We can use adjective clauses, or to add variety, use participial phrases. Using many styles shows you have mastery of the language and makes your paper more interesting. It gives it life!
  • It’s another way to combine some sentences–just like adjective clauses, if you have 2 short sentences that have the same subject or object, you can combine them using adjective clauses or participial phrases.
  • It’s a good way to get rid of EVIL “be”–the most boring verb in English. Even though it is not the main verb, we will be able to see more action in your writing if you turn some of those UGLY passive verbs into “ed” participles.

There are several ways to easily add participial phrases to your sentences.

  • Adjective clauses can often be reduced to participial phrases.
    • People who are living in glass houses should not throw stones. (clause)
    • People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. (clause)
    • People living in glass houses should not throw stones. (phrase)
    • Mary applied for a job that was advertised in the paper. (clause) (PASSIVE!)
    • Mary applied for a job advertised in the paper. (phrase)
    • Knoxville, which is located in Tennessee, is a medium-sized city. (clause)
    • Knoxville, located in Tennessee, is a medium-sized city. (phrase)
      • Appositives are not the same as participle phrases, but they are created in much the same way, by deleting the relative clause word and form of “be” from an adjective clause.
        • Mary, who is a doctor at John Hopkins Hospital, states that many of her patients are not happy with the decision. (clause)
        • Mary, a doctor at John Hopkins Hospital, states that many of her patients are not happy with the decision. (appositive)
        • My son Carlos got four As on his report card. (appositive)
      • Participial phrases created from adjective clauses follow the same comma rule as adjective clauses and appositives! YAY! That means if the information is necessary to complete the meaning, there is no comma!
        • A woman hurrying to catch the bus tripped and fell. (No comma–”A woman” is general!)
        • Tina, hurrying to catch the bus, stumbled and fell. (Tina is a specific woman’s name.)
  • Time clauses can sometimes be reduced to participial phrases, but they will need to keep the time adverb to make sense. This is usually possible for sentences using “after”, “before”, “when”, “while”, and “since”. To safely reduce, the subject of the main clause and the time clause must be the same topic, and only reduce the time clause, not the main part of the sentence. Don’t forget to replace the name or noun deleted from the time clauses if it’s different from the one in the main clause.
    • After I started classes at UT, I learned how important it was to make a schedule for myself.
      • After starting classes at UT, I learned how important it was to make a schedule for myself.
    • Since Adam came to the US, he has learned many things about cultures from around the world.
      • Since coming to the US, Adam has learned many things about cultures from around the world.
    • Thomas was a famous biker before he was thrust into student life once again.
      • Thomas was a famous biker before thrust into student life once again.
    • Anna didn’t want to be a diver anymore after the doctor said she was injured.
      • (This sentence’s time clause cannot be reduced because the subject of the main clause and the time clause are different topics.)
    • Time clauses with “while” can often be reduced to participial phrases, and “while” can be kept or deleted. Be careful, though–your participial phrase should be directly AFTER the noun it modifies. You can begin a sentence with a participial phrase ONLY if it is modifying the subject. Usually these kinds of participial phrases stay at the beginning of the sentence. These are good to use instead of sentences with “and” as well.
      • (While I was) Sitting on the beach, I watched the sunset.
      • I watched the sunset sitting on the beach. (The sunset was sitting? Crazy!)
      • Sipping on some coffee, reading a magazine, I enjoyed my free time in the cozy cafe.
        • (I was drinking coffee and reading a magazine and enjoying my free time in the cozy cafe.)
    • Also “after” clauses can use past participle. Use this when you want to show time order–1 event happened first, and a second event happened later.
      • After the students (had) solved the problem without any help, they were very happy. (adverb / time clause)
        • Having solved most of the problem without any help, the students were very happy. (participial phrase)
    • Participial phrases similar to the one in the example above can also be used to show a cause/effect relationship without needing to use “because”. In these cases it’s sometimes better to use “having” to help show which happened first–the cause happens first, and then the effect afterward. Once again, this reduction is only possible if the subjects of both the main and because clause are the same topic.
      • Because she needed $500, Amelia phoned her parents.
        • Needing $500, Amelia phoned her parents.
      • All of the students gave out a sigh of relief because they learned the test had been canceled.
        • All of the students gave out a sigh of relief having learned that the test had been canceled.

Practice 1

Reduce the sentences below, if possible. Are they being reduced from an adjective clause or an adverb clause?

  1. Many of the myths and stories were adopted by the Romans, who often just changed the names of the gods and heroes from Greek to Latin words.
  2. Hera was proud and quarrelsome and ready to harm those who made her angry.
  3. Nemesis, like the Furies, pursued those who had done wrong.
  4. But Juno, the queen who lived with Jupiter and shared his throne in the midst of the clouds, did not love Io at all.
  5. Demeter had one fair daughter, named Proserpine (Persephone), who was playing with her companions near Mount Etna.
  6. After a prophecy that his first wife, Metis, would give birth to a god greater than he, he tricked her into turning herself into a fly.
  7. After Hebe married Heracles, her place was taken by Ganymede, a beautiful Trojan boy.
  8. Before Theseus was attacked by the robbers and giants, his father gave him a special sword.
  9. After leaving the cave, Cadmus hardly had time to walk down into the road again before he saw a white cow, which he followed, as the voice had told him to do.
  10. Because Cronus had betrayed his father, he feared that his offspring would do the same.
  11. Tantalus was to be punished forever because he had betrayed the gods.
  12. They called him Oedipus, Swollen-Foot, because of the wounds they had found upon him.
  13. It was not a brave thing to do, and yet he drew a long, sharp knife from his belt and cut off the head of poor Argus while he slept.
  14. As much as possible, you should guess vocabulary while you read and avoiding using the dictionary unless you feel you don’t understand the material.
  15. Excuse me for leaving you, but my queen will do all she can to make you comfortable while I am gone.

 

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It’s All Greek to Me! by Charity Davenport is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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