What are Participles?

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A participle is a verb form that is either used as an adjective or as part of a verb. There are two forms, an ing form and an -ed form. We also know them as the present and past participles. Here we’ll take a look at how participles can be used in other ways, especially in writing, although we can use them in speech too.


The basic participle forms are very familiar and used in common continuous and past tenses. In this case we will look at what are called the participle clauses, where the past or present participle is used in conjunction with other words and expressions. When use these types of clauses the subjects in both parts of the sentence are often the same . 

Let’s look at an example of this type of clause 

  • When we arrived at the hotel, we went straight to bed. 
  • On/Upon arriving at the hotel, we went straight to bed. 
This is a common usage where the present participle substitutes for a past form and uses a preposition or other word. Other examples include before, after, by, in , since, with, while.

What we notice from this example is that it can make a sentence more formal, but it is also a relatively simple and flexible approach to adding more language variety to writing and speaking.  Another feature of such clauses is that they allow communication in a more economical way. In our example above we don’t need a pronoun or a specific tense in the clause to communicate the same idea. 

Other ways of using the present participle

We can also use present participle form to talk about past completed actions by using having. Look at these examples. As before they make the sentence more formal and it is common to find it at the beginning of sentences. It’s also a structure that can appear in the Use of English Part Transformations exercise.  

After Pablo had finished the report, he sent it to his boss.
Having finished his report, Pablo sent it to his boss.  

Using Past Participles

We can use past participles in exactly the same way to change the focus and make the sentence more economical. Sentence 1 is longer and contains a non-defining relative clause, whereas our second example focuses on the information with a brief comment about the history. 

The Tower of Pisa, which was built over two centuries,  remains a huge tourist attraction.
Built over two centuries, the Tower of Pisa remains a huge tourist attraction.

Reduced relative clauses

One particular way we can use participles is with what are called reduced clauses. These are relative clauses where some words are removed. Look at this example.  


  • The people who were sitting at the back couldn’t see anything.
  • The people who were sitting at the back couldn’t see anything.
Once again we can see how participles can make communication more economical.  Here’s another example.
  • Anyone who wants to go on the trip must pay by the weekend.
  • Anyone who wants wanting to go on the trip must pay by the weekend.
In this case the example verb is replaced with the present participle.
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