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What is a Participle? Learn how to identify participles and find examples

Updated: Mar 19

Knowing how to identify participles, participial phrases and whether or not your participial is dangling or doing the the job it's supposed to do in a sentence isn't easy to remember. But if you're writing formerly or professionally, knowing how to identify particles and use them correctly makes a difference.

square framed in black. In black letters the words Grammar Tip Tuesday appear and in red letters the word particles appears beneath

What is a Participle?

First, let's review what a participle is. In English grammar, words can play different roles in a sentence. A word that is showing action in one sentence, can act as an object, subject or describing word in another sentence. Participles are words that do this.

A participle is a word that uses a verb forms to act as adjectives (describing words).

Participles look like verbs (action words) but act like adjectives (words that describe a person, place or thing in a sentence) and usually end in -ed or -ing but can have an irregular ending as well. 

Let's look at the word winning for example.

Sentence A: Keisha is winning the race. (winning is expressing action)

Sentence B: Keisha can't believe she picked the winning ticket. (winning is describing the ticket)

What is a participial phase ?

A participle can also be used in a phrase called a participial phrase. This means the participle is part of group of words that are all working together to modify the same word. A participial phrase may contain the object of the participle and modifiers of the object.

“Showing his receipts, Michael looked her dead in her eyes with a smirk and waited for his apology.” 

“Showing his receipts” is a participial phrase that describes Michael.  

-Showing (participle)

-receipts (object of the participle)

-his (modifier of the object receipts)


Avoiding Participle Problems

The biggest grammar problem to avoid is confusing participles for action verbs when they’re not.

For example: She grew tired of broken promises. 

The past participle of the verb “broke” is “broken,” and it is being used to describe promises in the sentence.

To avoid this confusion, identify the main verb in the sentence which is grew then identify the word it refers to, which is the subject She

Another problem with participles happen when they "dangle" in a written sentence because they don't connect to the word it's supposed to be describing.  This is called a dangling participle

For example: “Leaving the important papers at home, missing the bus... then running around everywhere made the day worse.” 

*In conversation, dangling participles aren't a problem because the person speaking is clearly the subject in the conversation, but in writing, it needs to be clear who is “leaving”  “missing” and “running around.”  In the sentence, the subject is not present. 

Note: Participle problems generally happen at the beginning of a sentence and can be fixed by revising the sentence without the participle.

To revise the example above, add the pronoun "I" to the sentence to ensure a subject is present.

“First I left the papers I needed at home. Then I went back to get it and missed the bus. I ended up running around everywhere, which made the day worse.”

Example of Participles in Sentences

  1. The man sitting in the park looked like my uncle.

  2. The Xray taken by the doctor showed the woman's shoulder was dislocated.

  3. Celebrities, known for their fashion sense, work hard to make a memorable entrance on the red carpet.

Two Rules to Remember

  1. The (unexpressed) subject of the participial phrase should have the same subject at the main clause.

  2. The modifying clause or phrase should always come as close as possible to the subject of the sentence.

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