A participial phrase is a group of words that include a participle which can be a present participle (ends in –ing) or a past participle (ends in –ed, –en, –d, etc.), modifiers, complements, and objects. A participial phrase typically functions as an adjective that modifies a noun or pronoun.

Examples:

  • Looking through her binoculars, my grandmother said she saw a dark UFO.
    (The present participle is looking, and the participial phrase is looking through her binoculars. This participial phrase acts as an adjective and modifies the noun grandmother.)
  • Emitting a creaking sound, the door slowly opened by itself.
    (The present participle is emitting, and the participial phrase is emitting a creaking souind. This participial phrase acts as an adjective and modifies the noun door.)  

 

Examples:

  • Hit hard on the head by a fallen tree branch, he was airlifted to a hospital.
    (The past participle is hit, and the participial phrase is hit hard on the head by a fallen tree branch. This participial phrase acts as an adjective and modifies the pronoun he.) 
  • Terrified by a loud scream, everyone dashed for the exits.
    (The past participle is terrified, and the participial phrase is terrified by a loud scream. This participial phrase acts as an adjective and modifies the pronoun everyone.)

 

Examples:

  • We watched a couple of squirrels scampering across the field.
    (The present participle is scampering, and the participial phrase is scampering across the field. The participial phrase acts as an adjective modifying the noun squirrel. Across the field is a prepositional phrase that acts as an adverb modifying the verb scampering.) 
  • Children infected with the unknown virus can pass the virus to other children.
    (The past participle is infected, and the participial phrase is infected with the unknown virus. The participial phrase acts as an adjective modifying the noun children.)

 

Essential and nonessential participial phrases
A participial phrase can be essential or nonessential. If it is essential, no commas are used to separate it in a sentence. But if a participial phrase is nonessential, it is set off by commas. 

 

Examples:

  • The man giving a speech is a leader of the Opposition.
    (The present participial phrase giving a speech is essential to the meaning of the sentence, so no commas are used. Without the participial phrase, we don't know which man is a leader of the opposition.)
  • The team, suffered another loss this week, has not won any match since the season started.
    (The past participial phrase suffered another loss this week is nonessential information.Its removal from the sentence will not affect the meaning of the sentence.