Participial Phrase

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The participial phrase does not play a vital role in sentence like the gerund phraseOpens in new window does other than to modify or describe a nounOpens in new window or pronounOpens in new window.

The participial phrase includes additional words that, together with the participleOpens in new window, function as an adjectiveOpens in new window.

The present participle ends in -ing, and the past participle will end in -ed, -en, -d or -t commonly.

Here is an example sentence:
  • Singing a happy tune, the birds woke us today.

The introductory participial phrase modifies the birds.

Here’s another example:
  • Jonathon, known for his golf skills, works at the local golf course.

The participial phrase in this sentence comes directly after the word it modifies: Jonathon..

Functions of Participial Phrase

1.   The Simple Subject

The participial phrase may form the subjectOpens in new window of the sentence.

Here are examples:
  • Walking frequently is healthy.
  • Grinding corn is the miller’s business.
  • Praising the good is right.
  • Listening attentively is your duty.

It will be easily seen that the whole phrase (and not any single word) must in each case be considered as the subject to the verb.

  • Thus the first sentence does not assert that walking is healthy, but that walking frequently is healthy.
  • And the second sentence does not mean that grinding merely is the miller’s business, but grinding corn..

2.   The Enlargement of the Subject

The participial phrase also serves to enlarge the subject.

The following are examples:
  • The train, going most rapidly, arrived there first.
  • John, having been angry, was ashamed.
  • The boy, being soon caught, was punished.
  • The boy, having been seen yesterday, cannot be far away.
  • The thief, seeing the policeman, ran off.
  • Having been fighting fiercely, he was hurt.

3.   Part of a Predicate of Being

A predicate of being always contains some other part of speech besides the verb.

In the sentences below the participial phrase takes the place of that other part of speech.

  • Singing sweetly is singing well.
  • Possessing a good conscience is possessing a happy mind.
  • Striving earnestly may not be striving successfully.

4.   The Extension of the Predicate

Sometimes the participial phrases are extensions of the predicateOpens in new window, since they express particulars concerning the action indicated by the predicateOpens in new window, and thus modify its meaning.

Consider the following sentences:
  • The boy came, running very fast.
  • He spoke, stammering dreadfully.
  • He died, resisting the enemy.

5.   The Direct Object

In the following set of sentences, the whole phrase (and not any single word in it) is evidently the objectOpens in new window.

  • My father likes painting pictures.
  • He prefers riding slowly.
  • John enjoys playing cricket.

In first of the series, for instance, what my father likes is not pictures nor painting in general, but that particular kind of painting, which consists in painting pictures.

Perhaps he would decidedly object to being employed in painting sign-boards.

6.   The Indirect Object

A participial phrase may also take the place of the indirect objectOpens in new window as,

  • I heard him shouting lustily.
  • He considered himself bound to submit.
  • I saw you striking the man.

A participial phrase may contain an adverbOpens in new window, modifying the participle as in sentences 1, 4, 5 shown earlier.

Here are the sentences again:
  • Walking frequently is healthy.
  • Listening attentively is your duty.
  • The train, going most rapidly, arrived there first.

Thus, in the first sentence, the adverb frequently modifies the participle walking.

If the participle which commences a participial phrase be transitiveOpens in new window, it may be followed by an object, consisting of a noun or pronoun, which it governs in the objective case; as in the sentence below.

  • Grinding corn is the miller’s business.

    Here the participle grinding (derived from the transitive verb to grind) governs the noun corn in the objective case.

When a noun in a participial phrase is thus governed by a transitive participle, it may be enlarged:

For Example:
  • Possessing a good conscience is possessing a happy mind.

    Here the noun mind is enlarged by the adjective happy.

Sometimes the noun is omitted after the adjective:

For Example:
  • Praising the good is right.

    Of which the word people, or men, or some similar word, must be understood after the adjective good.

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  • References
    • The McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage Essential and Nonessential Appositive Phrases (Pg 25-27) By Mark Lester, Larry Beason.

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