He entered the room smiling.

I think the participle 'smiling' acts here as an adverb. When he entered he was smiling.

I saw him smiling.

Here the participle 'smiling' acts as adjective when we consider the participle describes him i.e he was smiling . But it can also be an adverb when we understand the meaning that I was smiling when I saw him.

What is the participle acting as? I'm totally confused.

My second question is can a participle that acts as an adjective be placed after noun or pronoun? Which meaning do I take?

  • 2
    In your first example "smiling" is a depictive adjunct (adverbial).In your second example, "smiling" is a non-finite clause functioning as complement of "saw". "Him" is direct object of "saw".
    – BillJ
    May 31, 2020 at 19:25

3 Answers 3


[1] He entered the room [smiling].

[2] I saw him smiling.

In [1] "smiling" is a depictive adjunct. It's predicative because it refers to a predicand, i.e. "he", and it's an adjunct because it's integrated into clause stucture.

In [2] "see" is a catenative verb and "smiling" is a subordinate non-finite clause functioning as complement of "saw". Syntactically, the intervening NP "him" is direct object of "saw", and the semantic (understood) subject of the subordinate clause. "Him" is thus a raised object because the verb that it relates to syntactically is higher in the constituent structure than the one it relates to semantically.

Note that "smiling" is not an objective complement. Predicative complements are generally restricted to NPs and AdjPs, but "smiling" is obviously not a noun and it fails the usual tests for adjectivehood, so it must be a verb phrase.

The word 'catenative' comes from the Latin word for "chain", which is appropriate here since the verbs "saw" and "smiling" do form a chain, separated only by the NP "him".

NOTE: "Smiling" does not qualify as an adjective. We can compare it to the genuine participial adjective "entertaining".

  1. "Smiling" can't be modified by "very". We can't say *a very smiling child, but we can say a very entertaining clown.

  2. "Smiling" can't occur as complement to complex-intransitive verbs like "become" or "seem". We can't say *He became/seemed quite smiling, but we can say He became/seemed quite entertaining:

  3. "Smiling" can't occur as complement to complex-transitive verbs like "find". We can't say *I found him quite smiling, but we can say I found him quite entertaining.

The range of expressions that can occur as pre-head modifier to a noun is very large and varied: we don't want to call them all adjectives. The same applies to other uses of verbs like "smiling", where it is equally clear that it can't be an adjective.

"Entertaining" has the properties of indisputable adjectives and hence must belong in that class, but "smiling" doesn't have those properties and hence is a verb phrase in [2].


It is true that, depending on its position within the sentence, a present participle can be adverbial or adjectival. It is adverbial when it indicates the way in which something is done:

  • He entered the room smiling. (How did he enter the room? -> Smiling -- "smiling" is an adverial adjunct of manner.)

It is adjectival when it refers to a noun. In:

  • I saw him smiling.

"smiling" is an object complement, as it refers to "him" (he was smiling).

Present participles can be found after the verb in reduced relative clauses, and this is the case mainly when they are followed by other elements that prevent them from being placed before the noun. Notice these two noun phrases:

  • The dancing girl
  • The girl dancing on the stage
  • 1
    No: In "I saw him smiling", "smiling" is not an object complement. Generally, only NPs and AdjPs can be subject or object complements. "See" is a catenative verb. "Him" is direct object of "saw" and "smiling" is a subordinate clause functioning as complement of "saw". "Him" is the understood (semantic) subject of "smiling". In "the dancing girl", "dancing" is a verb, not an adjective.
    – BillJ
    May 31, 2020 at 19:07
  • 1
    @BillJ Acording to Quirk, "smiling" is an object complement with a verb of perception, and "dancing" is clearly adjectival in "dancing girl", as is "flying" in "flying saucer".
    – Gustavson
    May 31, 2020 at 21:34
  • See my answer for an explanation of why "smiling" (and thus "dancing/flying") is not an object complement.
    – BillJ
    Jun 1, 2020 at 8:15

The participle is a non-finite form of the verb which has a verbal and an adjectival or an adverbial character. The participle shows its adverbial character usually when it's placed at the end of a sentence and tells "how something is done" :

Sentence + V-ing.

For example,

"He entered the room smiling."

The present participle "smiling" answers the question “how did he enter the room?". It's functioning as an adverb of manner. (We must keep in mind that all adverbs of manner don't end with -ly.)

When the participle is used after the verbs of perception, the present participle functions as an adjective qualifying the object of the verb :

For example,

"I saw him smiling."

Here, the present participle qualifies the pronoun 'him'. It is functioning as an adjective.

  • 1
    No: In "I saw him smiling", "smiling" is not an adjective. "See" is a catenative verb. "Him" is direct object of "saw" and "smiling" is a subordinate clause functioning as complement of "saw". Please stop posting wrong answers.
    – BillJ
    May 31, 2020 at 19:01
  • The present participle "smiling" is an adjectival complement of the verb 'saw'. It qualifies the object 'him'. It is objective complement. May 31, 2020 at 19:05
  • 1
    No it's not. "Smiling" can never be an adjective. Objective (and subjective) predicative complements can only be NPs ("They elected him mayor") or AdjPs ("I painted the house white). Clauses and VPs do not function as predicative complements. Where are you getting these wrong analyses from?
    – BillJ
    May 31, 2020 at 19:12
  • Your statement "Smiling can never be an adjective." is wrong. In "A smiling girl", isn't smiling a present participle adjective? May 31, 2020 at 19:29
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. Jun 1, 2020 at 16:38

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