Participial Phrase

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In this reference, we will explain participial phrases so you can confidently learn to identify them in sentences, understand their structure, and use this type of phrase in your writing and speaking without any problems.

What is a Participial Phrase?

A participial phrase is a collection of words that begins with a present or past participle and functions as an adjective. In simpler terms, it's a phrase that describes a noun or pronoun by using a verb in the "-ing" or "-ed" form. For example, "running late" is a participial phrase that describes the noun "you." The present participle "running" is used as an adjective to describe the state of being late.

Common Participial Phrase Structures

How to Identify a Participial Phrase

To identify a participial phrase, look for a group of words that begins with a present or past participle and functions as an adjective. The phrase will typically come immediately before or after the noun or pronoun it describes. For example, in the sentence "The broken window needs to be replaced," the participial phrase "broken window" describes the noun "window." It comes immediately before the noun and functions as an adjective.

Types of Participial Phrases - Present and Past

There are two kinds of participial phrases: present and past.

Present participial phrases use the present participle (-ing) form of a verb, while past participial phrases use the past participle (-ed) form of a verb.

For example, "running late" is a present participial phrase, while "broken window" is a past participial phrase.

Examples of Present and Past Participial Phrases

Here are some examples of present and past participial phrases:

  • Present: The running water sounded soothing.
  • Past: The broken vase shattered into a million pieces.
  • Present: The barking dog woke up the entire neighborhood.
  • Past: The written report was due yesterday.
  • Present: The dancing couple looked happy and carefree.
  • Past: The cooked chicken smelled delicious.


Common Participial Phrase Structures

Participial phrases can be structured in different ways, depending on the sentence.

  • Present participle + object: "She watched the dancing couple."
  • Present participle + prepositional phrase: "He stood near the barking dog."
  • Present participle + subject: "Running late, he forgot his keys."
  • Past participle + object: "She saw the broken vase."
  • Past participle + prepositional phrase: "He was covered in cooked chicken grease."
  • Past participle + subject: "Written by a famous author, the book was a best-seller."

Participial Phrase vs. Gerund

It's important to note the difference between a participial phrase and a gerund. While both use the "-ing" form of a verb, a gerund functions as a noun, while a participial phrase functions as an adjective.

For example, "Running is good exercise" uses the gerund "running" as the subject of the sentence. In contrast, "Running late, he forgot his keys" uses the participial phrase "running late" to describe the subject.

Common Mistakes

Here is what you should pay attention to:

  1. Make sure the participial phrase is describing the correct noun or pronoun. For example, in the sentence "Walking down the street, the trees were beautiful," the participial phrase "walking down the street" is describing the subject, "the trees," which doesn't make sense. The sentence should be rephrased to "Walking down the street, I saw beautiful trees."
  2. Avoid a dangling participle, which occurs when your phrase isn't modifying the intended noun or pronoun. For example, "Biking down the hill, the wind was in my face" is a dangling participle because it's unclear what the wind is doing - it's not biking down the hill. The sentence should be rephrased to "Biking down the hill, I felt the wind in my face."


A participial phrase is a set of words that starts with a present or past participle and functions as an adjective. They can be structured in different ways and are used to describe nouns or pronouns. With practice, you'll be using participial phrases like a pro in no time!

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PromovaMar 7th, 2024
Yes, participial phrases can be placed at the beginning or end of a sentence, but they must be positioned next to the noun or pronoun they modify to avoid confusion.
Laura from German Mar 7th, 2024
Hi! can participial phrases be used at the beginning or end of a sentence?