Participial phrases are short phrases that appear at the beginning of a sentence or the end of the sentence. These participial phrases should always be set off from the main clause with a comma. The action that is occurring in these participial phrases should relate back to the subject. That is, the subject of the sentence should be doing the action. If this is not the case, the result is a dangling modifier.
There are two basic types of participial phrases.
1. There is the present participial phrase [which usually employs an "-ing" form of a verb (like the gerund) within it.]
[Beginning] Looking at the recent issue of Cosmo, the man who always sits in the back of the bus began to hum to himself a song from a strip tease act.
[End] Dogs lick themselves all over, thinking they are superior to men.
Usage: This form is usually used when the action within the participial phrase is still ongoing.
2. There is the past participial phrase [which usually employs an "-ed" form of a verb (similar to the participle) within it.]
[Beginning] Attached to a mother that only a son could love, Jerry, the newborn, suckling pig, felt a profound attraction to ugliness come over him.
[End] The lonely caddy became flustered, scared that his affections for the old man's daughter would be noticed.
Usage: This form is usually used when the action within the participial phrase is completed.
There are instances when the participial phrase seems to make sense although the participial phrase does not specifically name an action that the subject of the sentence is performing. This is called a dangling modifier. These dangling modifires occur most frequently when the participial phrase is at the beginning of the sentence.
Incorrect: Helping himself to the buffet, the things that Todd quietly thought about food were never to be discussed with anyone.
Here the participial phrase Helping himself to the buffet is not something that the things (the subject of the sentence) is doing.
Correct: Helping himself to the buffet, Todd quietly thought things about foodthat were never to be discussed with anyone.
Incorrect: Carried on the shoulders of all the players' wives, his foot dangled precariously for all his fans to grab.
Again: Here the participial phrase is in the past form, but Carried on the shoulders of all the players is not something that his foot was doing.
Correct: Carried on the shoulders of all the players' wives, John Dingle dangled his foot precariously for all his fans to grab.
The participial phrase at the end of the sentence can also be considered a dangling modifier if it does not refer back to the subject of the sentence.
Incorrect: A large twig floated over and jabbed him, swimming against the tide.
Here swimming against the tide is not something that the twig is doing. Twigs don't swim. They float. However, it appears as if swimming against the tide is modifying him (the final pronoun in the main clause). While some grammarians might not find anything objectionable about this practice, generally speaking, participial phrases (both at the end of and in front of the main clause) should refer back to the subject.
Correct: Ricky Wrigley was jabbed by a floating twig, swimming against the tide.
Better: Ricky Wrigley, swimming against the tide, was jabbed by a floating twig.
It is best if the modifying phrase is placed as close as possible to the noun it is modifying. For this reason, the phrase is moved up here next to Ricky Wrigley. Also, this suggests that the participial phrase should be included after the main clause only if absolutely necessary.
Advanced: Reduced Relative Clauses
[Notice above that swimming against the tide could also be seen as a reduced relative clause as well.]
Ricky Wrigley, who was swimming against the tide, was jabbed by a floating twig. [With the reduced relative clause, the relative pronoun is omitted.]
When a participial phrase is attached to the end of a sentence and it is modifying the last word of the sentence (a noun), it may be acting like a reduced relative clause as well. In this case, refer to the rules for restrictive and non-restrictive clauses for punctuation.
Example: Harold invented his own god, laughing maniacally at the sight of a face in a cloud.
The question here is who is laughing maniacally. Punctuated as it is now, laughing maniacally at the sight of a face in a cloud is a participial phrase that modifies Harold. However, it could be seen as a reduced relative clause that is modifying god. This relative clause is restrictive because laughing maniacally would specify what kind of god Harold had invented. Therefore, use no comma.
Harold invented his own god which was laughing maniacally at the sight of a face in a cloud.
Harold invented his own god laughing maniacally at the sight of a face in a cloud.
Why use the particpial phrase?
The participial phrase is just another way to write sentences with compound verbs in them. It provides a variety of sentence style.
Compound verb: Cecil claims he lost his ticket for the doggie erotica show and insists the ticket taker let him in.
Participial phrase: Claiming he lost his ticket for the doggie erotica show, Cecil insists the ticket taker let him in.
Compound verb: He dragged the basket out of the fire, lifted the Pekingese by the scruff of its neck and kissed it full on its tiny, pink lips.
Participial phrase: Dragging the basket out of the fire, he lifted the Pekingese by the scruff of its neck and kissed it full on its tiny, pink lips.
Participial phrase (compound): Dragging the basket out of the fire and lifting the Pekingese by the scruff of its neck, he kissed it full on its tiny, pink lips.
[Note: The action that occurs in the main clause is the one said to be emphasized. The participial phrase is said to be subordinated to the main clause.]
Exercise 1. Look at the following linked page. See if you can find the participial phrases used on this page. First, correct the sentences (if necessary). Then, rewrite the sentences with compound verbs.
1. Original page here [Note: Total of five. Three use dangling modifiers. One uses inappropriate punctuation] Click here for answer
Exercise 2. Combine these sentences by using past and present participial phrases. [Remember: the participial phrase can come before or after the main phrase.]
1. A. Our waitress was costumed in a kimono. B. She had painted her face white. C. She had arranged her hair in an upswept lacquered beehive.
2. A. He walked up to the pitcher's mound. B. He dug his toe into the ground. C. He swung his arm around backward and forward. D. Then he threw the ball and struck him out.
3. A. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is a 184-mile waterway constructed in the 1800's. B. It was a major source of transportation for goods during the Civil War era. [Hint: you may want to use a relative clause here]
4. A. The first football card set was released by the Goudey Gum Company in 1933. B. The set featured only three football players. C. They were Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, and Knute Rockne.
5.A. Sacramentans put up with people stealing potted plants off their porches in the past. B. Sacramentans are now struck by thieves. C. The strike is brazen. D. The thieves target Japanese maples. E. The maples cost hundreds of dollars.
6. A. Critics claimed Tuesday's disaster could have been averted. B. The disaster involved a local commuter train and a high-speed express. C. Critics noted that the long-delayed inquiry into the Southall accident got under way just two weeks ago. D. Critics wondered if a quicker review might have yielded measures to prevent the latest wreck.