A participle is yet another verbal, a word derived from a verb. Participles are verbals that act as adjectives.
- That dripping faucet kept me awake all night.
- Dried meat and preserved fruit were staples for our ancestors.
- This movie is boring.
- A broken clock stood on the mantelpiece.
Participles can look like present participles (base form of verb + –ing) or like past participles (base form + –ed for regular verbs, or the various irregular past participles). Participles in present form usually describe what a thing does. Participles in past form usually describe what was done to a thing.
Do not confuse adjective participles with participles that are part of verbs.
- She is buying a talking bird for her daughter.
Is buying is the verb buy in present progressive tense. Talking is a participle modifying the noun bird.
Participles frequently occur in participial phrases.
- The woman sitting in front of me was so tall I could not see the stage.
- Knowing you would disapprove, I could not lie to him.
- Calling the horse’s name, she ran through the snowstorm.
When a participial phrase comes at the beginning of the sentence, it should modify the subject of the sentence. If it does not, it is called a dangling participle (misplaced or “dangling” modifiers).
- Dangling participle, incorrect: Walking through the forest, the trees were beautiful.
- It sounds like the beautiful trees were walking!
- Correct: Walking through the forest, we saw many beautiful trees.
- We saw the trees while we were walking.