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Learning Participial Phrases with Famous Songs


Everyday Grammar - Participial Phrases

Everyday Grammar - Participial Phrases

From VOA Learning English, this is Everyday Grammar.

“Don't Stop Believing” is one of the most popular karaoke songs in the world.

You have probably heard the rock group Journey perform the song even if you do not remember its name.

It begins like this:

Just a small-town girl
Livin' in a lonely world
She took the midnight train
Goin' anywhere

You can learn English grammar by singing along to the words. In fact, you can learn how to use two parts of speech: participles and participial phrases.

In today's program, we will explore a common grammatical construction: the participial phrase.

Relative clauses

In an earlier Everyday Grammar, we discussed relative clauses – groups of words that act like an adjective in a sentence.

Common relative pronouns -- such as who, whom, which, or that -- often begin the relative clause.

Here is an example: She is just a small-town girl who lives in a lonely world.

In this sentence, the relative clause begins with the word who. It is a clause because it has a subject and a predicate. Predicates express what is being said about the subject.

So, how does this discussion of relative clauses relate to participial phrases?

Participial phrases are like shortened relative clauses.

When reading or listening, English learners often have trouble understanding participial phrases. That is because, unlike relative clauses, such phrases do not have a pronoun – words like that, who, or which, for example.

Do not fear! In the way you might derive a problem in mathematics, you can also derive, or get, participial phrases from relative clauses.

However, unlike complex math, creating participial phrases can be fun.

What are participial phrases?*

A participial phrase is a group of words beginning with a participle – in the present tense, the base form of a verb plus an –ing ending.

These phrases often serve as an adjective in a sentence.

In general, you can change a relative clause to a participial phrase by removing the relative pronoun and the verb BE. Then add –ing to the end of the verb if it does not already have an –ing ending.

Think back to the words of our example:

She is just a small-town girl who lives in a lonely world.

If you take away the relative pronoun "who" and change the verb "live" to "living," you get this sentence:

She is just a small-town girl living in a lonely world.

This sentence is almost exactly like the words you heard in Journey's song, "Don't Stop Believing." The only difference is they removed the subject, she is, for artistic reasons.

So, what happens if the verb already has an –ing ending?

Here is an example that shows you this process is even simpler.

Consider the following examples:

The young students who are taking the final exam look afraid.

The young students taking the final exam look afraid.

These examples show you how to change a relative clause to a participial phrase. When there is a relative clause, you can remove the relative pronoun and the BE verb.

You can also see that when the verb already ends in –ing, you do not need to change it.

Place in a sentence:

You will often see participial phrases following a noun. Think back to some of the words from Journey's song:

A small town girl living in a lonely world

In the example, the participial phrase living in a lonely world is modifying the important noun, girl. This phrase is describing the girl, so you know it is acting like an adjective.

Like other adjectives, participles can sometimes move to different places in a sentence. You will often see participial phrases following a noun, but sometimes they can come at the beginning of a sentence.

For example:

Walking at night, the hikers used headlamps.

The participial phrase "walking at night" is describing the subject, the hikers.

When you see participial phrases at the beginning or end of a sentence, they are modifying the subject of the sentence.

We will discuss this idea in future Everyday Grammar programs.

Practicing Participial phrases with karaoke

Verbs from any of the sentence patterns we discussed in earlier Everyday Grammar stories can work as participles. If you recognize and understand the common sentence patterns we discussed, then developing your own sentences with participial phrases should be easy.

We are going to leave you with some homework. Can you change these sentences with relative clauses to sentences with participial phrases? Write to us in the Comments Section of our website or on our Facebook page.

  1. Do you recognize those people who are singing in the karaoke room?
  2. The old man who sings karaoke has a nice voice.

I’m John Russell.

And I'm Jill Robbins.

John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

*We are discussing participial phrases in an adjectival role. A discussion of other common adjectival participles is beyond the scope of this story.

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Words in This Story

karaoke – n. a form of entertainment in which a device plays the music of popular songs and people sing the words to the songs they choose

participle – n. a form of a verb that is used to indicate a past or present action and that can also be used like an adjective

participial phrase – n. a phrase that starts with a participle

relative clause – n. a kind of dependent clause. It has a subject and verb, but it is not a sentence. Relative clauses are often called “adjectival" because they function like adjectives.

derive – v. to have something as a source : to come from something

modify – v. to change or amend something

pattern – n. a repeated form or design; the repeated way in which something is done

construction – n. the way something is built; a structure

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