Participle clauses

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A participle clause contains a present or past participle, often forming a clause similar to a dependent clause, which depends on and modifies a main clause. In academic writing, such a clause can be more complex, having objects, prepositional phrases, and other phrases and words withing in.

Adverbial participle clauses can background secondary information, impart greater stylistic proficiency and sophistication, create better flow, and reduce the use of coordination conjunctions (like and, so) and simple clauses. These can precede or follow the the main clause, and are always offset with commas.[1]

  1. Investigating the previous research carefully, they could have a better understanding of the underlying assumption of the theory.
  2. The high cost of the new therapy for lung cancer has caused an economic burden to patients, eliminating their opportunity to receive treatment.


Sentence (b) could be rephrased with a coordinate (main) clause (c), or a relative clause (d), but here the participle clause in version (b) flows better.

  1. The high cost of the new therapy for lung cancer has caused an economic burden to patients and eliminated their opportunity to receive treatment.
  2. The high cost of the new therapy for lung cancer has caused an economic burden to patients, which eliminated their opportunity to receive treatment.


The verb in the participle phrase has an unexpressed subject, which should correspond to the subject of the main clause, as in (e). If there is a significant mismatch (f), then the sentence fails to make sense or sounds awkward. This is often called a dangling modifier (the asterisk denotes an awkward or incorrect expression).

  1. The researchers delved back through the original literature describing the 29 sites, checking the accuracy of claims for the locations being 12,800 years old.
  2. *Doing the same experiments several times, the findings were finally confirmed. (Did the findings do the experiments?)


Classic examples of the dangling modifier are as follows.

  1. Entering the room, the vase broke.
  2. With her giant nose pointing down the runway, my aunt boarded the plane.


1 In scientific and academic papers

First, the dangling modifier rule is less strict in academic writing in one situation, and that is when the unexpressed participle subject is discourse referential, that is, the entire preceding idea or clause is what is referred to, rather than a single noun. This is similar to the discourse reference use of this in (a), for example, this refers not to a specific noun in the previous clause, but an entire idea and the content of the entire clause, as shown by its paraphrase in (b). Thus, this could be rewritten as a participle phrase as in (c), and(d) shows another example.

  1. Global patterns were reset, and the treated cells were endowed with a capacity to differentiate into a number of different lineages that remained capable of inducing tumors in vivo. This suggests a dominance of oncogenic alterations over a nonmalignant epigenetic state.
  2. This result/finding/outcome suggests a dominance of oncogenic alterations over a nonmalignant epigenetic state.
  3. Global patterns were reset, and the treated cells were endowed with a capacity to differentiate into a number of different lineages that remained capable of inducing tumors in vivo, suggesting a dominance of oncogenic alterations over a nonmalignant epigenetic state. (Cell Vol. 157, Issue 3, p. 526, April 2014)
  4. In the former case, the protein was found to bind selectively to immunoglobul in heavy chains prior to their association with light chains, indicating once again a protein-protein interaction, here potentially facilitating oligomeric assembly. (Cell Vol. 157, Issue 2, p. 286, April 2014)


Often in academic writing, the main clause states the main result or outcome, while a participle clause provides interpretation or implications, as in (e-f), with verbs like suggesting, showing, indicating. An initial participle clause can explain causes or conditions of an event, as in (g). The participles based on, compared to can be used for explanations and comparisons (h). Other participles with active and passive verbs provide secondary information (i-j), results (k).

  1. Interestingly, disturbances in the signal patterns did not compromise intelligibility of the recording, suggesting that the listeners were not sensitive to this frequency range.
  2. For these reasons, mass production of this waveform, showing slow fast response times and a narrower viewing angle than twisted nematic mode, has been limited.
  3. Using our assumption for X, Y is increased by ~ 3 nm per 1-nm increment.
  4. Based on our program, we analyzed the transmittance of a gold layer, 20 nm thick, and the phase difference between waves before and after passing through the layer.
  5. Figure 2 shows X as a function of Y over a total of 13 samples with different properties, as well as over sample Z, measured at 523 K and 5.2 mm.
  6. Then a condensation phenomenon, combined with a loss of two hydroxyl ions and one water molecule, lead to the transformation of the compound into CuO at room temperature.
  7. At high frequencies, interface trapping does not respond to small signal oscillation speed, resulting in less stretching out of the CV.


Some of the most common verbs in participle clauses in science and social science writing are:

apply

base, based on

being

calculate

call

caused

combined

comparing

compared to / with

composed

considered

correspond to

defined

depend on

depicted

evidenced

expected

feature

follow, followed

forming

having

indicate, indicated

induced

inspired

lead, lead to

look

mean

measured

motivated

named

originate

reduce

refer to, referred

result in

show, shown, not shown

suggest

take

taken

use



2 References

  1. These examples and descriptions are adapted from the following:Cho, D. W., & Park, J. (2015). Supplementive participle clauses in science journal papers written for publication by Korean graduate students: A corpus-based study for pedagogical purposes. Journal of Asia TEFL, 12(4), 1-36. dx.doi.org/10.18823/asiatefl.2015.12.4.1.1