What is a Participle Phrase? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, you'll learn what a participle phrase is, examine some examples of sentences containing participle phrases, and explore correct punctuation and usage when incorporating participle phrases in writing.

Definition of a Participle

A participle is a form of a verb that is used as an adjective. Participles are a type of a modifier since adjectives modify nouns. There are two types of participles: present participles and past participles. Present participles usually end in '-ing,' as in 'singing.' Past participles usually end in '-ed', as in 'alarmed,' '-en,' as in 'eaten,' '-d', as in 'draped,' '-t', as in 'dealt,' '-n', and in 'shaken,' or '-ne,' as in 'gone.'

In this lesson, you'll learn about participle phrases, dangling participles, the difference between a participle and gerund and punctuation for participles.

Participle Phrases

Participle phrases consist of, at the minimum, a participle and an object. For example, in the sentence, 'Skipping rocks, Zach passed the time,' the participle phrase is 'skipping rocks.' This phrase modifies the noun, Zach.

Sometimes a participle phrase will include a preposition, but it still functions as an adjective. For example, in the sentence, 'Alarmed by the number of failing students, Mr. Julian decides to reteach parts of speech,' the participle phrase is 'alarmed by the number of failing students,' which is an adjective describing Mr. Julian.

The Difference Between a Participle and a Gerund

Sometimes, students confuse participle phrases and gerunds because they both begin with verbs that end in '-ing.' The difference is the a gerund functions as the noun in a sentence, while the participle phrase acts as an adjective.

For example, in the sentence, 'Skipping rocks is a good way to pass the time,' 'skipping rocks' acts as a gerund because it functions as a noun.

Punctuation

In the sentence, 'Draped in silk, the queen descended the staircase,' the participle is used to introduce the main clause of the sentence. When that happens, a comma is placed between the participle and the main clause.

However, when the main clause comes first, followed by the participle phrase, such as 'The queen descended the staircase flanked with guards,' there is no reason to use a comma.

Finally, when the participle phrase modifies a word that appears towards the beginning of the sentence, you will need a comma. For example, 'The queen, draped in silk, descended the staircase.'

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