Present and Past Participles

The Basics:

  • Participles are based on verbs and express an action or a state of being.
  • The participle, modifier(s), and the (pro)noun that the participle modifies form the participial phrase.
  • Participial phrases are used as adjectives to describe (modify) nouns or pronouns.
  • Present participles end with -ing. (e.g. swimming)
  • Past participles end with -ed, -en, -d, -t, -n, or -ne. (e.g. walked, eaten, craved, dealt, seen, gone)


  • Present participle: We are going to the swimming pool. Here, ‘swimming’ modifies the noun ‘pool.’
  • Past participle: After the crime, Mark was a wanted man. Here, ‘wanted’ modifies the noun ‘man.’
  • Participial phrase: Seeing the violence on the basketball court, Jimmy stayed on the swings.

Seeing the violence on the basketball court, Jimmy stayed on the swings.

 participle object prepositional phrase (modifier) clause being modified by the participial phrase

Punctuation Rules:

  • If your sentence begins with a participial phrase, it should be followed by a comma.
    • Watching a scary movie, Jill felt the need to get up and turn on the lights.
  • If a participial phrase is in the midst of a sentence, it should be surrounded by commas only if it is non-essential information.
  • Essential Information: The boy wearing the red shirt is Jerry.
  • Non-Essential Information: Jerry, seeing the teacher turn her back, threw a spitball.
  • If a participial phrase is at the end of a sentence, it should be preceded by a comma only if it modifies a noun that is not directly before the participial phrase.
    • The teacher often saw Jerry throwing spitballs. (the participial phrase modifies ‘Jerry’)

The cook was seen by the man, making pizza. (the participial phrase modifies ‘the cook’)


Source: Purdue Owl. “Participles.” The Purdue Owl. Purdue U Writing Lab, 13 Apr. 2011. Web. 13 Nov. 2012.