Participles are verb forms or verbals that end in -ing or -ed, -en, or -d and function as a different part of speech, usually as an adjective but sometimes as an adverb. There are two kinds of participles: present participles and past participles.

Present Participles

A photograph of several Indian children sitting and laughing.

Source: laughing kids, FredR, Flickr

Present participles end in -ing. For example, read the following sentences:

Present participles can be tricky because they are easily confused with gerunds. However, you can use the “it” trick you learned in the section on gerunds to clear up any confusion in a sentence, such as the one that follows from the example above:

This sentence makes no sense whatsoever, so you know giggling is a participle and not a gerund in this sentence.

Past Participles

A photograph of a Lady Bug on a plant.

Source: Coccinella quinquepunctata top - DK11 crop, Pudding4brains, Wikimedia


Past participles end in -ed, -en, or -d as shown in the following sentence:

The participle crushed acts as an adjective to
modify bugs.

The participle  proven acts as an adjective to modify skills.

Participial Phrases

A photograph of football players standing on the sidelines.

Source: Brewer vs Springtown 10-16-2009 071, samuel_belknap, Flickr

Just as gerunds can become gerund phrases, participles can become participial phrases. A participial phrase begins with the participle and is followed by other modifiers or objects.

Disappointed is not a verb here. The phrase describes (modifies) the football team; the verb is the word “rushed.”

Compare that sentence to this one:

In this sentence, both disappointed and rushed act as verbs.

The sentences are essentially the same, but the sentence with the participle is more concise because the focus is the second verb, rushed, and not both disappointed and rushed.

icon for interactive exercise

Click on the correct answer to indicate whether the word or phrase in bold is a participle.


Danger! Dangling Participles!

A photograph of ‘Danger’ tape on a fence, near a construction site

Source: DANGER, brianwescott, Flickr

When you are revising your essay and rewriting sentences so that they include verbals, specifically participial phrases, be careful to avoid dangling participles. I know you are saying, “What is a dangling participle?”

Dangling participles are adjectival participles that aren’t modifying a subject. They just hang there and consequently change the meaning of your sentence. This error happens often when a sentence begins with a participial phrase.

A yellow rotary telephone hanging on the wall

Source: Vintage Rotary Dial Phone,
RightBrainPhotography, Flickr

The following is an example of a dangling participle:

Wait, what was that? Her phone rang while it was running out the door? The subject of the sentence is her phone. Therefore, the phrase running out the door modifies her phone. What the writer intended to say was this:

The problem is this: Beginning a sentence with a participial phrase is a good way to add sentence variety and interest to your writing. However, you have to be absolutely certain that the phrase is modifying a subject. As you edit each sentence that begins with a participle, verify that the subject of the sentence is the noun closest to the participle.

Anyone Seen My Modifier?

A poster that reads “don’t let your modifiers dangle”

Source: ParentsPstcrd_060510.jpg, Carolyn_Sewell, Flickr

Another common error you can make when beginning a sentence with a participle is that the participle may actually be modifying a noun, but not the correct noun. This is called a “misplaced modifier.” An example follows.

This sentence, as written, means that the vegetables are dripping with melted cheese. What I want to say is that the pizza is dripping with melted cheese. In this sentence, the modifier dripping with cheese is misplaced. You can rewrite the sentence in a couple of different ways as follows:

In either of those rewrites the modifier would be in the right spot to modify the word “pizza.”

 

As you edit, take a second look at sentences that begin with participles. Make sure to identify the subject and the object of the sentence and determine whether the participle is modifying what you intended it to modify.

icon for interactive exercise

Decide whether each sentence is correctly written or not by clicking on Correct or Incorrect for each question below.

1. Breaking against the sand, the jellyfish floated in the surf.

a. Correct
Try again.
b. Incorrect
Good job! “Breaking against the surf” is a misplaced modifier.

2. Leaking like a sieve, the sailors thought their ship would surely sink before they reached port.

a. Correct
Try again.
b. Incorrect
Good job! “Leaking like a sieve” is a misplaced modifier.

3. She sat sullenly in her chair, thinking about the test.

a. Correct
Try again.
b. Incorrect
Good job! “Thinking about the test” is a dangling participle.

4. The intruder was tall with a tattoo weighing two hundred pounds.

a. Correct
Try again.
b. Incorrect
Good job! “Weighing two hundred pounds” is a dangling participle.

5. Sprinting across the lot, Jimmy slipped and fell down.

a. Correct
Good job! “Sprinting across the lot” correctly modifies “Jimmy.”
b. Incorrect
Try again.


take notes icon Now that you have determined which sentences in the exercise above contain errors, use your notes and rewrite each incorrect sentence so that the participle is attached to the correct noun. When you are finished, check your understanding to see possible responses.

Check Your Understanding

Sample Responses:

  1. Breaking against the sand, the surf was filled with jellyfish.
  2. Their ship leaking like a sieve, the sailors were sure it would sink before reaching the port.
  3. Thinking about the test, she sat sullenly in her chair.
  4. Weighing about 200 pounds, the intruder was tall and had a tattoo.