What are participles and how are they used in phrases?

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  • Definition

Participles fall into two groups:  present participles and past participles; these are two of the principal part of verbs. (Present form, present participle, Past form, Past Participle) The present participle always ends in the suffix -ing.  The past participle of regular verbs ends in the suffix -ed, but for irregular verbs they have different endings, such as -t or en            e.g. burnt, spoken.

  • Usage of Participles as single words

Participles are verbals, or verb forms that are often used not as verbs, but as other parts of speech. There are three kinds of verbals:  participles, which function as adjectives, gerunds (which act as nouns), and infinitives (which act as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs).

As adjectives, participles answer the questions What kind? or Which one?

What kind? - That horrible clicking sound will not stop. [clicking is a present participle used as an adjective]
                     The cracked ice resembled broken ice. [cracked and broken are past participles used as adjectives]

Which one? - The frozen pipe needs to be repaired immediately. [frozen is a part participle used as an adjective]

Present and Past Participles can also be used before the nouns they modify:

e.g. Laughing, Tom left the rowdy child with the rest of us.
e.g. Disgusted, Betty called after him.

  • Usage of Participles in phrases

Because participles are forms of verbs, they can be expanded with modifiers and complements, forming participial phrases; i.e. a present or past participle that is modified by an adverb or adverbial phraase or that has a complement. In this case the entire participial phrase acts as an adjective in a sentence.

*Here are examples*:

Rushing out of the store, Gloria lost one of her packages and it rolled under a truck. [This participial phrase modifies Gloria.]

Frightened by the sudden appearance of the barking dog, the toddler screamed hysterically. [ This participial phrase modifies toddler]

Of course, the participial phrase does not necessarily begin the sentence. It can also be placed after the word that it modifies. e.g. The chicken, thoroughly roasted and seasoned, was delicious.
                         The girl wearing the red dress is my sister.

  • Usage in combining sentences

Participial phrases can also be used to combine information from two separate sentences into one. This is a stylistic change that is effective for emphasis as well as style. 

e.g. As 2 sentences:  We picked up the injured cat. We could see that it had a broken leg.
       As 1 sentence:    Picking up the injured cat, we could see that it had a broken leg.                                                                 

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