I'm often confused between this two terms participle clause and participle phrase used in English grammar.I've read through some websites about them but got further confused.To be honest,I don't understand some other English grammatica terms such as adverbial clause,verbals etc even after reading through many websites.However,Now,As I'm learning about participle,I want to understand these terms.Do the following sentences contain participle clause:

  1. Entering the room, he caught us sleeping.

  2. Opening the envelope, I found two concert tickets.

If they don't contain participle clause why these http://www.grammarbank.com/participle-clauses.html http://www.grammaring.com/participle-clauses websites are describing them as participle clause?

Could you please make me understand about both participle clause and participle phrase?

4 Answers 4


A clause is a part of sentence that contains a finite verb; a phrase is a part of sentence that does NOT contain a finite verb, but many sources just do not pay attention to this difference in the meaning and use either clause or phrase for depicting the same notion.

According to britishcouncil.org: participle clauses are a form of adverbial clause which enables us to say information in a more economical way. We can use participle clauses when the participle and the verb in the main clause have the same subject.

According to grammar.about.com: a participial phrase is a word group consisting of present/past participle plus any modifiers, objects, and complements.

Both of them talk about the same thing but just name it differently. That's why I'd recommend you not to pay attention to this difference in the meaning.

And here are some links from britishcouncil.org and grammar.about.com on adverbial clauses.

  • Hi Claire - I incorporated your extra links into your answer. Welcome to ELL!
    – ColleenV
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 23:09
  • No. There are non-finite clauses as well. (But a good answer could discuss how the term clause is used differently in different grammatical frameworks.)
    – user230
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 23:21
  • @snailplane here is the article that talks about non-finite clauses and I think the examples there look just like participle phrase/clause (except the one with in order to...well in order to usually takes bare infinitive so it would be strange if there were a participle)..anyways, the problem is that different grammar books just cannot stick to using one term Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 8:51
  • This seems like a poor definition. A verb phrase, for example, contains a finite verb, but nobody would ever call it a verb clause. Commented Jan 3 at 20:33

A phrase is a grammatical structure. Phases are headed by a word. For example Noun Phrases are headed by a noun.

A clause is a grammatical structure headed by a verb. This is significant because clauses can be complete sentences. Traditional grammar placed special emphasis on sentences,

Now what about a phrase headed by the participle form of a verb. These are clauses (headed by a verb), but since they aren't headed by a finite verb, they can't form a complete sentence. Moreover, finite clauses require an explicit subject, infinitive and participle clauses don't.

So what to call these. Some people call them particple clauses (focussing on the fact that they are headed by a verb) some people call them particple phrases (since they can't form a complete sentence).

But ultimately, these people are talking about the same thing. That is participle phrase is just a different name for participle clause.



I perfectly understand your confusion. In fact, grammarians do not agree among themselves on several points. One of these is the difference between participle clause and participle phrase. The difference is this (English Grammar in Use): a clause (dependent or independent) is an utterance that contains a subject and a predicate whereas a phrase is a group of words that is typically part of a clause, e.g. "in the morning, having arrived late, late at night". According to this, participle structures should be called participle phrases, not participle clauses. They do not contain a subject nor a main verb. Therefore, they are not clauses.

  • Many people would argue that most "participle structures" (including those in OP's example sentences) do contain subjects and main verbs. Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 20:12

I'm a learner like you, and this is how I understand the difference between the participle phrase and participle clause; if someone finds my explanation wrong, please correct me.

I think the participle (the head of a sentence) in the participle clause is actually working as a verb, or should I say the action or the thing he/she was doing, before doing another action in next sentence. But in the participle phrase, the participle is actually describing the main sentence more, it is not trying to add another situation before or after sentence, but it is trying to describe the main sentence more for reader.

For example:

  1. Running like crazy, he gets to the bus.
    (Participle phrase)

  2. Running like crazy to get to the bus, he misses the bus.
    (Participle clause)

In the first sentence, we're describing the situation he was in when he tried to get to the bus.
But in second sentence we are describing the first action or situation he was doing before he misses the bus.


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