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Dr Grammar

Participial Phrases

Posted by peter   30 May 2014 6 54 pm

Hi Alex,

I'm reading a page which talks about Sentence-Combining Skills.

There is an example on the page under the Using Participial Phrases to Connect Ideas section:
"Completely out of touch with their families for over two years, the men of the expedition put their faith in Lewis and Clark's leadership and never once rebelled against their authority."

I don't quite get it why this is a participial phrase:
"Completely out of touch with their families for over two years,..."

Are they making a mistake?

Many Thanks!

Posted by alex stringer   31 May 2014 9 31 pm

Hi Peter

Neither do I. Don't see a participle there anywhere? What is the source?

Posted by peter   1 Jun 2014 3 07 am

Thanks, Alex.

here is the source:


Posted by alex stringer   3 Jun 2014 10 42 am

The first example is OK:
'Allowing his men to make important decisions in a democratic manner, Lewis fostered a spirit of togetherness and commitment among his fellow explorers.'

However, most text books refer to this structure as a participle clause, not a participle phrase. The reason being that it expresses some kind of action (he allowed his men to make decisions); a phrase is merely a group of words ('on the table', 'half an hour' 'an interesting journey' etc.)

The second example, as I have said, is certainly not a participle clause or phrase. I suppose this illustrates how websites are often the work or one person and are not adequately proof-read. Still, it has some value as it made you think.

Posted by peter   3 Jun 2014 11 57 am


Glad to see your agreement :)

Having read your comment, I've a follow up question, which has been in mind for a long time but I dont think it is a critical one so i've ignored it...

Is it no clear definition to the meaning of a " clause and a phrase?

I have just seen someone wrote A clause contains both a subject
and a verb whereas a phrase does not.
which is my understanding as well. (source:

clause <--> having both a subject and a main verb
phrase <--> having either a subject or a main verb

or the definition isn't clear?
(as i remember... i have read an article/wiki page which mentioned that phrases are now called clauses for some reasons)


Posted by alex stringer   3 Jun 2014 10 05 pm

Hi Peter

In participle clauses the subject is not usually part of the clause, although it is understood:

Not wanting to appear rude, Henry accepted the offer of another slice of chocolate cake. 'Henry' has to be the subject.

To my knowledge, phrases are just groups of words. I don't think they need to be subjects or main verbs.

The Oxford Dictionary definition seems quite adequate.

He put the book on the table
No subject or verb here, just a simple prepositional phrase.

slices of delicious fresh Atlantic salmon with lemon and black pepper dressing served on a bed of iceberg lettuce and artichoke hearts lightly sprinkled with sea salt

The kind of elaborate noun phrase frequently found on menus in pretentious restaurants. Other phrases contained within.


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