• Rarely does a person perform one action at a time.

    At this exact moment, you may be sitting at your computer, reading information, tapping your foot, and twirling your hair.

    Let's dramatize it as thus:

    Mindlessly twirling her hair, Elvira sat at her computer, reading her teacher's assignment, tapping her foot nervously.

    This sentence contains three participial phrases, now highlighted in blue:

    Mindlessly twirling her hair, Elvira sat at her computer, reading her teacher's assignment, tapping her foot nervously.

    Participial phrases allow a writer to present multiple actions occuring at the same time. Sentences with participial phrases carry more energy because there is more action.

    This is dull:

    The pirate captain walked across the deck. He sensed mutiny. He yelled orders at his crew. He glared at those not standing at attention.

    This carries more energy and excitement:

    Sensing mutiny, the pirate captain walked across the deck, yelling orders at his crew, glaring at those not standing at attention.  



    Participial phrases begin with a verb ending in -ing or -ed. Verbs ending in -ing are present tense; verbs ending in -ed are past tense.

    To write a participial phrase, you must first have a sentence with a main verb:

    Jimmy sat at the table.

    Now ask yourself, what else is Jimmy doing at that moment? (Perhaps chewing, eating, staring,...). Make a selection, then finish out the thought.

    For example:

    Jimmy sat at the table, chewing his steaking slowly.

    Jimmy sat at the table, staring out the window.

    Eating his ham and cheese sandwich, Jimmy sat at the table.


    You can add as many participial phrases as desired. They can be placed at the beginning of the sentence, at the end of the sentence, or between the subject and verb:

    Jimmy sat at the table, chewing his steaking slowly.

    Jimmy, chewing his steaking slowly, sat at the table.

    Chewing his steaking slowly, Jimmy sat at the table.

    HOWEVER, be careful about placement. It should be clear which person or thing in the sentence the participial phrase is giving more information about. It is clear in the above example that Jimmy is chewing the steak, but consider the next example:

    Jimmy, chewing a carrot, watched the rabbit. 

    Jimmy watched the rabbit chewing a carrot.

    Chewing a carrot, Jimmy watched the rabbit.

    Note that, depending on placement, it would seem that EITHER Jimmy OR the rabbit is chewing the carrot. Readers will automatically assume that the noun closest to the participial phrase is the person or thing doing that action.  If you are not careful about placement, then you can write some rather silly sentences by mistake. For example:


    I saw the trailer peeking through the window. (Did the trailer peek through the window?)

    Working at full speed every morning, fatigue overtakes many of the employees in the afternoon. (Does fatigue work at full speed in the morning or many of the employees?)

    Please read through the links at the bottom of this page which cover other common problems with participial phrases, as well as other tutorials as to hwo to write them.



    Usually, participial phrases are set off from the rest of the sentence with commas. The information is extra, or unnecessary. (This is not to say it's not valuable.) In other words, it is information apart from the main point.

    But sometimes the information given by a participial phrase is essential and necessary. That is to say, if the information is removed, then the main point of the sentence changes.

    Consider this example:

    The boy crying in the corner lost his IPod.

    If the participial phrase is removed, key information is lost. "The boy lost his IPod." Now the reader does not know which boy is being talked about. The participial phrase "crying in the corner" pinpoints exactly who is being written about.

    In situations like these, no commas should be used. Commas separate what is essential or necessary from what is NOT essential or necessary.