Section 5: Participle Phrases

A participle phrase is a modifier (adjectival or adverbial), and begins with a participle verb, which does NOT contain all the elements for a main verb phrase, most specifically TENSE or an auxiliary, so a participle phrase is NOT a main verb phrase. A present participle phrase contains a verb with the [-ing] morpheme only (which is the KEY MARKER) and a past participle phrase contains a verb with the [-en] (or [-ed]) morpheme only (which is the KEY MARKER). A participle phrase can include the subject (which it often then modifies) or the complements (or both) of the verb from which it is derived.

Using deductive reasoning, Jean voted for the best candidate. (adverbial present participle phrase)

Jeri, her brain lost in thought, failed to hear the dog bark. (adjectival past participle phrase)

Participle phrases are ALWAYS adverbial or adjectival.

When analyzing for participle phrases, you can test whether or not it is a phrase by substituting a single adjective or adverb which supplies similar information. This substitution test can also help you determine how a participle phrase is functioning in the context of the sentence. As usual, identifying the function of participle phrases begins with proximity: who is the phrase hanging out with? A participle phrase will most often be adjectival if it follows immediately after a noun. And a participle phrase will most often be adverbial if it provides extra information about time or place, but the key tests for determining if a participle phrases is adverbial is always movement and deletion.

Participle phrases can modify words, phrases, clauses, or whole sentences:

Verb Modifier

Hearing about the new assignment, the students groaned. (adverbial - can move to the end or delete)

Noun Modifier

Those people waiting for the tour bus look excited. (adjectival - modifies PEOPLE)

The car parked behind the radio station belongs to the station manager. (adjectival - modifies CAR)

Known quantities are required for chemical measurement.(adjectival - modifies QUANTITIES)

When inflated, the tires held 26 psi.(adjectival - modifies TIRES - non-restrictive)

Sentence Modifier

Considering how late it is, we ought to go home. (adverbial - can move to the end or delete)

You should be able to identify the function of a participle phrase:

Turning into the parking lot, the girl could see that lines were already forming.

Turning into the parking lot = Adverbial present-participle phrase.

You should be able to tell the difference between a participle and an adjective. Be sure to use your tests:

People waiting along the parade route hoped to see the prize-winning float.

Waiting = Present-participle - Cannot be compared or qualified (*The more/very waiting people)

To test your understanding of the concepts discussed on this page, begin with the link below for an example practice exercise:


For a bit more of a challenge, analyze the following sentence from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for participle phrases.

When Dorothy was standing in the doorway, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun has been burning the tops of the long blades for decades, until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere.

To review your answers to these two samples, check the PARTICIPLE PHRASE SAMPLES ANALYSES page.