52. Participles Placed Just after their Noun

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Using a participle directly after the noun it describes poses a number of grammar problems

FEATURES OF PARTICIPLES

Participles have the following features:

(i) They are verbs that, like adjectives, describe a nearby noun.

(ii) They have one of three possible forms:

PRESENT: -ing added to an active verb (e.g. going) or the BE part of a passive (e.g. being seen). As both of these are also the form of gerunds (which act like nouns – see 70. Gerunds), and simple -ing forms can also be nouns (see 240. Nouns that End with “-ing”), or ordinary adjectives (see 245. Adjectives with a Participle Ending), confusion is possible. The term “present” is slightly problematic because -ing participles can refer to past actions as well (e.g. Leaving Britain, Caesar rushed to Rome).

PAST: regular verb + -ed (e.g. involved), or irregular verb in the “third” form (e.g. put, begun, known – see 97. Verb Form Confusions). Again, “past” is slightly misleading because these participles can refer to present time too; their typical passive meaning is often more important.

PERFECT: having + “past” participle (e.g. having seen, having noticed). This is another form that is sometimes a gerund rather than a participle.

To make any participle negative, just place not in front (not noticing, not seen, not having read).

(iii) They cannot be the only verb in a sentence – there must always be another verb (even if it is just an auxiliary). This is what grammar books mean when they call participles “non-finite”.

Participles can occupy four main positions relative to the noun they describe: some distance before it, immediately before it (e.g. the emerging picture), immediately after it (e.g. the picture emerging), and in a delayed position after it. This post is about the third of these positions, immediately after a noun.

Guinlist posts dealing with the other participle positions are respectively 75. How to Avoid “Dangling” Participles,  71. Gerund & Participle Uses of “-ing” and 101. Add-On Participles. There is also a separate post (232. Verbs with an Object + “-ing”) on participle versus non-participle -ing after a noun object of another verb, like this:

(a) The agency HELPS children living in poverty.

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PROBLEMS WITH PARTICIPLES PLACED JUST AFTER A NOUN

1. Confusability with Ordinary Verbs

By “ordinary verbs”, I mean verbs in a typical tense form like present simple (operate/s), past simple (operated), or present continuous (is/are operating). It is quite a common error to use one of these other forms, especially the last, when a participle form like operating in (a) is required instead.

The usual reason for a participle being necessary instead of an ordinary verb is the sentence already possessing an ordinary verb but lacking any verb-linking word like and or which. Two ordinary verbs cannot be together in the same sentence without such a word (or a semi-colon). Participles do not need such words because their ending (-ing, -ed) is the equivalent of one (see 30. When to Write a Full Stop). Very often the ordinary verb accompanying a participle will be has/have or there is/are (see 161. Special Uses of “There” Sentences, #7).

Here is another sentence where a participle facilitates verb-addition. What form should the added verb MAKE have?

(b) Coat hangers often COMPRISE thin metal … into a triangular shape.

This needs the “past” participle made. The ordinary forms makes and is made are wrong because there is no verb-linking word enabling them to accompany the main verb comprise, while the “present” participle making is wrong because the meaning is passive (with its expected object as its subject: see 4. Verbs that don’t have to be Passive). One could also say which is made – indeed lone “past” participles like made are often viewed as an abbreviation of their use after which + BE (see 192. When BE can be Omitted).

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2. Confusability with Other Joining Devices

It is incorrect to place who, which or that before a participle without BE, e.g. *which made after metal in (b). This confuses two possibilities that are each correct without the other (see 133. Confusions of Similar Structures 1, #3).

Expressions like *which made are incorrect because the same verb (MAKE) then has two joining devices (which and irregular -ed), which English does not allow. With who, which or that, an ordinary verb is needed instead of a participle: in (b) the present simple is made (preferable here to the present continuous is being made).

The combination and made is possible in some contexts, but not in (b) since it again creates two joining devices instead of one. To use and, you have to say and they are made.

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3. Requirement to Use Commas in a Special Way

When participles after a noun correspond to ordinary verbs with who, which and that, the comma rules of the latter apply (see 34. Relative Pronouns and Commas). Consider these:

(c) The London located in Canada is less well-known than London in England.

(d) The Taj Mahal, located in Northern India, is a great wonder.

In both of these cases, the participle located corresponds to which is located. No commas are possible in (c) because located follows a noun (London) representing more than one possibility, and is helping to identify which one is meant. In contrast, (d) has two commas because located is not helping to identify which of different Taj Mahals is meant – there is only one.

The same thing happens with -ing participles. No commas are possible in the following because the participle living acts like who live to help identify which people are meant:

(e) People living in glass houses should not throw stones.

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4. Confusability with Relative Clauses

The frequent ability of participles to replace who, which or that + ordinary verb does not mean that they always can. The relative pronoun must be the subject of the verb after it. In the following, the subject is they instead:

(f) Everybody moved away. Hence, the work THAT they were involved in stopped.

Replacing the underlined relative clause here with the participle involved would remove they, thus nonsensically making work its subject instead.

There are also situations where a participle cannot usually replace a relative clause despite having the right subject. These are when the verb in the relative clause is active and either surrounded by commas or signifying a past completed event, e.g.:

(g) (ACTIVE + COMMAS) The Prime Minister, who heads the government, is appointed by the President.

(h) (ACTIVE = PAST EVENT) The person who invented light bulbs deserves special honour.

It would be incorrect to say *heading in (g). An -ing participle between commas is not always incorrect, but it must express an action or state that is both simultaneous (or nearly so) with that of the main verb (earlier actions are possible but need a having participle) and also a reason for it. Heading a government is not normally a reason for being appointed by a president. Here is an example of a reason-showing -ing participle with commas:

(i) Older racing cars, possessing (= which possessed) few safety features, caused numerous fatalities.

In (h), the active past event verb invented rules out the participle *inventing. Replacing invented with the non-event verb worked with would allow the participle working.

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5. Confusability with Participles before their Noun

The positioning of a participle before or after the noun it describes is decided by a variety of rules. In sentences like (a), where the described noun (children) is the object of another verb (helps), participles follow it if they are combined with their own object or adverb expression, e.g. living + in poverty, but must go first if combined with no other words (…helps living children).

Outside of these positions, participles still usually follow their noun if they begin a longer phrase (see 109. Placing an Adjective after its Noun), but by themselves some precede their noun, some follow it, and many allow a choice. Examples of the use before are the rising sun, improved results and related ideas; examples of the use after are dots appearing, matters arising, answers found and results shown; and participles allowing variable use include emerging, remaining, observed, indicated and preferred.

Guidelines on which lone participles can go where are scarce. It is important first to distinguish participles from participle-like adjectives, such as interesting, welcoming, relaxed and bored, since these behave like adjectives in general in typically preceding their noun in the situation in question. For a list of distinguishing features, see 245. Adjectives with a Participle Ending.

One especially useful indication of -ing adjectives is ability to follow very; while many -ed adjectives have a meaning that differs in an unpredictable way from that of their related verb. For example, the adjective advanced means not just “put in a forward position” but “technically sophisticated” (see 261. Words with Complicated Grammar 3, #2).

The meaning of a participle can sometimes indicate where to position it: properties or constant conditions before the noun, one-off events after. Compare:

emerging nations/ the colour emerging
the preferred solution/ the solution preferred

Describing nations, emerging is a state (constant emergence), but with colour it is a single event. Preferred before its noun means “generally preferred”, but after it “preferred in this case”. The use before is close to being adjectival (see 66. Types of Passive Verb Meaning).

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PRACTICE EXERCISE: VERB FORM SELECTION

The following exercise is similar to one in my book Grammar Practice for Professional Writing. You have to put the capitalised verbs into their correct forms (answers afterwards).

1. An essay WRITE carefully and accurately may receive a high grade. 

2. Mount Everest RISE nearly 8km above sea level on the India-Nepal border. 

3. A diameter is a straight line PASS from one side of a circle to another through the centre. 

4. According to scientists, the current unrestrained burning of fossil fuels CAUSE a dangerous amount of global warming.

5. A questionnaire was administered and the data OBTAIN SHOW some surprising trends.

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Answers: 1 = written (passive participle; other verb = may receive); 2 = rises (present simple active; no other verb); 3 = passing (active participle; other verb = is); 4 = is causing or causes (present simple/continuous active; no other verb – burning and warming are not “proper” verbs);   5 = obtained (passive participle; main verb = showed) and showed (past simple active, linked to earlier was administered by and).

17 thoughts on “52. Participles Placed Just after their Noun

  1. Hi there Teacher!
    Can I write that sentences when I want to give examples of your #4 above subtopic.

    ‘Jennifer,(=who worked) working the last night before the exam, got the worst score.’

    ‘ He,(=who punched) punching the opposing team footballer, was sent off.’
    ‘She,(=who wanted) wanting the best dress, tried 15 clothes!

    They express a reason, isn’t it ? and
    do you think they are true?

    Thank you!

    • Thanks, Yigido, for these examples, which expose an omission from my description above (now rectified). Of the three examples that you provide, only the last is correct. What I omitted to say above is that a reason-giving participle between commas must also express an action or state that is simultaneous with the action or state of the main verb. “Wanted” in your last example is correct because it does this (see 225. Simultaneous Occurrence), but “working” and “punching” in the others express earlier actions. However, you could still make reason-giving participle statements with WORK and PUNCH by using “having” (“having worked” and “having punched”), which expresses a present state resulting from a past action.

  2. Hi teacher Paul,
    I want to ask something because I am really confused.
    After I read that post, I understand we can reduce relative clauses.
    But for when I see a sentence for example;
    “The train arriving on platform 3 leaves at 3:12.”

    I can reduce that sentence from
    #) “The train which arrived on platform 3 leaves at 3:12” or
    #) “The train which is arriving on platform 3 leaves at 3:12” or maybe
    #) “The train which arrives on platform 3 leaves at 3:12”

    How can I understand which sentence is reduced?We can reduce relative clause from 3 sentences. Am I wrong?
    I would be grateful if you could explain me.
    Thank you.

    • This is a good question, Yigitcan. In answer, the first of your three possibilities, with “arrived”, cannot be expressed without “which”. The reason is that the verb is “active and signifying a past completed event” – one of the two situations ruling out a participle use (see #4 above). The other two possibilities, however, are both able to become just “arriving”: both present simple and present continuous active verbs after “which” can become an “-ing” participle. Addressees discover the right meaning from the context. For example, the “which is arriving” meaning” would be obvious if said in a station over a loudspeaker.

      • Got that. Thanks teacher.
        I understand we learn the reduced relative clause’ time from the context.Because participle clauses non-finite.

        However, when I want to use the verb ‘arrive’ in reduced relative clause, can I say
        ‘Australian residents(who arrives) arriving in New Zealand do not need to stay in quarantine?

  3. Why do we say “lessons learned” instead of “learned lessons”?
    Why wouldn’t this adjective/participle follow it’s usual position i.e. before the noun it describes?

    • Thanks, Sergiu, for raising the use of “learned”. Actually, “learned” in “lessons learned” is only a participle. The corresponding adjective (pronounced as two syllables) means “very educated” (see 245. Adjectives with a Participle Ending, #8). As I say above, participles are found as often after a noun as before, but deciding which position is right in a particular situation is tricky as grammar books are not very helpful. However, I think the common reason that I mention above for placement after – reference to a recent specific event – applies here: “lessons learned” implies “from a particular experience”. It is actually possible to say “learned lessons”, implying “in general”, but I would guess it sounds strange because there’s quite a rare need to say it – perhaps people prefer to express that meaning with “experience”.

  4. Hello! I am writing in the hopes that the comments for this post are still being monitored. I’m an English teacher (a native speaker of English) in South Korea, and a Korean English teacher recently asked me about a sentence from one of her students: Use your imagination used when you were a kid. Now, though this might be comprehensible, it sounds unnatural, but I am at a loss to explain WHY. The closest I came is the vague notion that it has something to do with specificity. In searching for a way to explain, I came across this post. I might be in need of your book haha. If you could give an explanation as to why this past participle ‘used’ sounds strange here, it would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hello Amanda. Yes, I do answer questions on my past posts and I appreciate yours. It has given me plenty to think about, especially as grammar books seem unable to help. I agree that the sentence you quote sounds strange. My best guess as to the reason is that it is not grammar but combining two ideas that do not usually go together. The expression “use your imagination” is not normally expanded with descriptive words after it – it’s virtually a fixed expression by itself. Thus, hearing the words after it that you quote go against expectation and hence sound strange. I think the best way to overcome the problem is by replacing “your” with “the” or “the…of yours”.

      • Thanks for your reply, Paul. It makes sense! You’re right that grammar books lack information on this; I checked the three grammar reference books I keep on hand, and while there’s some information about using past participles to modify nouns, but alas no information on exceptions or restrictions. Beyond your post, the internet wasn’t much help either. I will gladly share your comment with my friend so she can pass it on to her student.

  5. Sir,I read this post and it is very helpful post.But I still have some confusions.Could you please tell me that your book will make it clear because I ordered for your book yesterday.Actually I would like to know that this post is only introduction to participles used after noun but did your book explained it more or not.Please tell me because this topic forced me to order the book.So please tell me about this topic as included in your book.Thanks for such a contribution.

    • Hi. I hope you find the book useful! It has a chapter entitled PARTICIPLES & GERUNDS. The section headings are “Single Participles with -ed and -ing“, “Avoiding who and which by Using Participles”, “Starting Sentences with a Participle Clause”, “The Main Uses of Gerunds” and “Gerunds Used Before Nouns”. All of these are considered in different Guinlist posts (see the links in the post you mention), but the book gives more practice exercises. If you specify what is still confusing you I may be able to help.

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