At, you will find this description of participial (or participle) phrases: "Participle phrases always function as adjectives, adding description to the sentence." These phrases can add depth and maturity to students' writing, helping them to avoid choppy prose.

Notes about Participial Phrases:
  • Participial phrases can be found anywhere in the sentence: beginning, middle, or end.
  • It's very easy to misplace these modifiers, especially when they begin a sentence.  I once heard Andrew Pudewa say at a workshop, "The thing after the ing needs to be the thing doing the inging."  For example, in the first sentence below, he comes immediately after frowning. He is the one frowning. This is correct. In the second sentence, they is the first word after the participial phrase. Since they are the ones turning the corner, this is also correct.
  • Participial phrases are typically accompanied by a comma if they appear in the beginning or end of the sentence.  If they are in the middle, they are surrounded by commas.
  • Present tense participles end in -ing, past tense in -ed. There are many irregular ones as well.
  • Participial phrases can be strung one after another.

At the beginning:

"Frowning, he finally came out with a single marble" (Jeff Brumbeau, The Quiltmaker's Gift).

"Turning a corner suddenly, they came upon two vans, a tent, and a company of gypsies encamped by the side of the road" (E. Nesbit, Five Children and It, 70).

"Pushing the covers back, Stuart climbed out of bed" (E. B. White, Stuart Little, 54).

"Taking his bow and arrow and his flashlight, he tiptoed out into the hall" (E. B. White, Stuart Little, 54).

Being careful not to make a sound, he stole across to the lamp by the bookshelf, shinnied up the cord, and climbed out onto the shelf" (E. B. White, Stuart Little, 54).

In the middle:

"While he was there, waiting for the dog to go away, a garbage truck from the Department of Sanitation drove up to the curb and two men picked up the can" (E. B. White, Stuart Little, 58).

"And then, tracing each word with his paw, he read the story of a beautiful princess and the brave knight who serves and honors her" (Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux, 24).

At the end:

"Many people climbed her mountain, pockets bursting with gold, hoping to buy one of the wonderful quilts" (Jeff Brumbeau, The Quiltmaker's Gift).

"Paralyzed, my face on fire, I could only look at her, shocked at what I had done (Katherine Hannigan, Ida B, 212).

"She was standing there, sucking on the knuckle of her third finger, staring in the window of Gertrude's Pets" (Kate DiCamillo, Because of Winn Dixie, 57).

"'Once upon a time,' he said aloud, relishing the sound" (Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux, 24).

"'Move side to side,' instructed Furlough, scrabbling across the waxed castle floor" (Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux, 20).


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