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What Is a Participial Phrase?│Definition & Examples

Verbs updated on  May 29, 2024 3 min read
A participial phrase is a group of words containing a participle. It serves as an adjective to modify a noun.

When you add words around the participle to form a phrase, you’ve got a participial phrase. Participial phrases can be formed using both past participles (e.g., “forgotten”) and present participles (e.g., “wondering”).

Examples: Participial phrases
She ate her dinner, surprised it turned out so well.
Folding the laundry, Paul found a stain on his shirt.
Swimming in the ocean, my niece got bitten by a fish.

When a participial phrase comes at the beginning of a sentence, it is called an introductory participial phrase because it introduces the main clause.

Participial phrase examples

There are a few types of participial phrases, including past and present participial phrases.

Present participial phrases

Present participial phrases use present participles. Present participles are generally formed by adding “-ing” to the bare infinitive of the verb (e.g., “sing” becomes “singing”). This is true for both regular verbs and irregular verbs.

Examples: Present participial phrases
Running out the door, the boy yelled goodbye to his mom.
I sat in the chair, wondering what time it was.
Waving goodbye to my dad, I walked toward the school bus.

Past participial phrases

Past participial phrases use past participles.

The past participle of a regular verb is the same as its simple past tense form and usually ends with “-ed” (e.g., “I saved my dessert for later,” “I walked to the park”).

The past participles of irregular verbs typically end in “-en,” “-d,” “-t,” “-n,” or “-ne” (e.g., “I met my friends,” “Terry was gone when I came home”).

Examples: Past participial phrases
Whipped by the wind, I pulled my coat tighter.
She swiped the check left out by her boss.
Stopped at a red light, I turned the radio up.

Dangling participles

One common mistake a lot of people make is creating a dangling participle when they’re trying to build a participial phrase.

A dangling participle occurs when a participial phrase modifies the wrong subject. This happens when the subject is not stated clearly.

Examples: Dangling participles
Searching the room, the slippers couldn’t be found.
Searching the room, Anna couldn’t find her slippers.

The first sentence appears to be saying that the missing slippers are searching the room, which doesn’t make sense.

So who is searching the room? Anna is the one with the missing slippers, and she is the one searching the room. Placing the subject (“Anna”) directly after the participial phrase resolves this issue.

Participial phrases vs gerund phrases

Another mistake writers often make is confusing participial phrases for gerund phrases.

While a participial phrase is used as an adjective, a gerund is an “-ing” form that is based on a verb and functions as a noun.

Gerund phrases are essential to the sentences they appear in. If you take the gerund phrase away, you have a sentence fragment. If you take a participial phrase out of a sentence, you still have a whole and complete sentence.

Examples: Gerund phrases
The thing he enjoys the most is walking his dog.
Eating a lot of sugar can make you feel energized.
Susan dislikes washing the dishes.

Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Verbs

Nouns

Rhetoric

Present participle

Concrete noun

Oxymoron

Linking verb

Common noun

Double entendre

Auxiliary verb

Abstract noun

Sibilance

Simple present tense

Proper noun

Cliché

Modal verb

Appositive

Paraprosdokian


Frequently asked questions about participial phrases

What is an introductory participial phrase?

An introductory participial phrase is a participial phrase that is positioned at the start of a sentence. It introduces and provides context for the main clause of the sentence, which will follow the introductory participial phrase (e.g., “Typing quickly, she misspelled her own name”).

What is the difference between a present participial phrase and a past participial phrase?

A present participial phrase will use the present participle of a verb (e.g., “Resting in bed, Brandy fell into a deep sleep”).

In contrast, a past participial phrase will use the past participle of a verb (e.g., “Rested after a nap, Brandy got ready to go”).

What is the difference between a participial phrase and a gerund phrase?

A participial phrase serves as an adjective (e.g., “Singing for the class, Randy’s voice was nice and clear”).

In contrast, a gerund is an “-ing” verb that functions as a noun (e.g., “Singing for the class was Randy’s proudest moment”).

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Paige Pfeifer

Paige teaches QuillBot writers about grammar rules and writing conventions. She has a BA in English, which she received by reading and writing a lot of fiction. That is all she knows how to do.

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