Participles as Modifiers

If you are learning English, you have probably come across the term “Participles”. Despite their complicated-sounding name, participles serve a crucial role in English grammar. They are forms of verbs that can be used in various ways, one of which is as modifiers. This tutorial aims to provide an in-depth understanding of participles used as modifiers.

Understanding Participles

A participle is a verb that is used as an adjective to modify a noun or pronoun. There are two types of participles in English – Present participles and Past participles.

1. Present Participles

Present participles end in “-ing” (e.g., “running”, “singing”, “talking”). They describe the noun that is performing the action. For example:
“Tom saw the running dog.”

In this sentence, “running” is a present participle that modifies the noun “dog”.

2. Past Participles

Past participles often end in “-ed” (e.g., “baked”, “finished”, “closed”). They describe the noun that has undergone or received the action. For example:
“I ate the baked bread.”

In this sentence, “baked” is a past participle modifying the noun “bread”.

Participles as Modifiers

When participles function as modifiers, they provide extra information about the nouns they modify. These modifiers can appear in different places in a sentence.

1. Participle Modifier at the Beginning of a Sentence

A sentence can start with a participial phrase, which consists of the participle and the object of the participle or any words modified by or related to the participle. For example:
Looking at the sunset, Laura felt at peace.”

In this sentence, “Looking at the sunset” is a participial phrase that modifies Laura, telling us what Laura was doing.

2. Participle Modifier at the End of a Sentence

A participial phrase can also come at the end of a sentence. For example:
“Laura felt at peace, basking in the warmth of the setting sun.”

Here, “basking in the warmth of the setting sun” is the participial phrase that modifies Laura, giving extra information about what she was doing.

3. Participle Modifier Immediately After the Noun

A participial modifier can also directly follow the noun it modifies. For example:
“People wearing masks are allowed to enter the store.”

“Wearing masks” is the participial modifier that modifies the noun “people”, describing the people allowed to enter the store.

Rules for Using Participles as Modifiers

There are a few rules to remember when using participles as modifiers:

  • When a sentence starts with a participle phrase, it must be followed by a comma.
  • The noun the participle modifies should come immediately after the modifier; failure to do so results in a grammatical error called a dangling modifier.
  • Be careful not to misplace modifiers, leading to confusion about what is being modified.

Common Mistakes with Participles as Modifiers

One of the most common errors when using participles as modifiers is the dangling modifier, where it is not clear which noun the participle is modifying. For example:

Walking down the street, the trees were beautiful.”

The modifier suggests that the trees were walking down the street, which makes no sense. A correct version of this sentence could read:

Walking down the street, I thought the trees were beautiful.”

Another common error is to have participles agree in tense with the main verb of the sentence. Remember: Participles are not verbs, and their form does not change with the tense of the verb in the main clause.

Practice with Participles as Modifiers

The best way to master using participles as modifiers is through practice. Try creating sentences using both past and present participles to modify various nouns. By incorporating participles into your writings, you’ll make your communications more descriptive and engaging.

For instance, instead of saying, “She is a girl who is passionate about painting,” you can say, “She is a girl passionate about painting.”

Following the above guidelines will ensure that your grammatical understanding of participles as modifiers is solid, helping you to communicate more effectively in English.


Using participles as modifiers can bring your English to the next level, offering a way to provide additional details about the nouns in your sentences. Keep practicing, and soon it’ll become second nature!

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