Participial phrases are an interesting bunch. They're groups of words that act as adjectives. That is, they provide further information about the noun or nouns in a sentence.
These phrases contain past or present participles. If they contain past participles, they'll likely end in -ed, -en, or -t. If they contain present participles, the verb will likely end in -ing.
A past participle is something like "baked," "forgotten," or "burnt." In a sentence, a past participle would read, "I have baked chocolate chip cookies all my life." A verb ending in -ing is something like "walking," "reading," or "sipping." In a sentence, a present participle would read, "I am reading a book."
The difficulty arises when we try to pinpoint irregular past participles. These contain irregular verbs that don't adhere to the -ed rule. Examples include "eaten" (instead of "eated") or "ran" (instead of "runned"). In a sentence, an irregular past participle would read, "I have eaten tamales all my life."
With a firm grasp on participles, let's take a look at an amplified version: participial phrases.
A participial phrase starts with a participle and includes other modifiers and direct objects (or subject complements). The good news is participial phrases only have one function: they act as adjectives. And adjectives only modify nouns or pronouns.
The formula for a participial phrase goes something like this: participle + modifiers + direct object (or subject complement). Let's break down our first example:
Cooking his own dinners for a year, Diarmuid managed to save over $500.
In this sentence, Diarmuid is the subject. It's all about him. Typically, subjects are the first thing we see in a sentence. However, participial phrases spice things up a bit, offering unique details even before we meet the subject. Note that it's best to place the participial phrase close to the subject it's modifying.
Now, we already know a little bit about Diarmuid. He cooked his own dinners for an entire year. Then, the sentence completes itself with the infinitive verb "to save" and closes off with the direct object, $500. Nice and easy, right?
Of course, participial phrases don't have to appear at the start of the sentence. The point is that they always modify nouns and like to stick close to the noun. Here are four more examples:
Brewing a lovely pot of tea, Grace also decided to indulge in two butter cookies.
(describing the subject, Grace)
Rocky Balboa, beaten within an inch of his life, stood up and kept fighting.
(describing the subject, Rocky Balboa)
In another article, we unveil gerund phrases as verbs functioning as nouns that end in -ing. Wait a minute. How can they end in -ing when present participles also end in -ing? The key to that question is to remember the function of each phrase.
Gerund phrases contain gerunds, which typically end in -ing, but they always function as nouns. Meanwhile, participial phrases always function as adjectives. Let's take a look at a sample of each:
The baby panda bear enjoys somersaulting through the leaves. (gerund phrase)
In this example, "somersaulting through the trees" is the direct object of the action verb "enjoys." Direct objects are always nouns, as they're the person, place, thing, or idea receiving the action of the verb.
Somersaulting through the leaves, the baby panda bear exhibited pure bliss. (participial phrase)
In this example, "somersaulting through the trees" is providing added detail about the subject of the sentence: the baby panda bear.
Now, consider this variation:
"I smiled when I saw the baby panda bear somersaulting through the leaves."
Still, we're looking at a participial phrase because "somersaulting through the leaves" is telling us more about the noun, the baby panda bear.
It's nice to know that such a technical term simply means "provide more information about the noun." Acting as an adjective, participial phrases can boost our nouns (and pronouns).
The more information we can provide, without overstuffing our language, the more detail we can provide our readers. If writing with clarity and detail is your goal, perhaps you have a novel on the mind. For more on that, enjoy these tips on how to write a bestseller.