Present participles in composition

This activity involves working with nonfinite clauses to do some sentence-splitting and sentence-joining. The purpose is to develop your awareness of the different kinds of structures that are available to you as a writer.

Goals

  • Transform single sentences with present participle clauses into multiple sentences.
  • Transform multiple sentences into a single sentence with a present participle clause.

Lesson Plan

Before starting, we'll review the difference between finite and nonfinite clauses. More information can be found in the 'Professional development' page entitled 'Clauses: Finite and nonfinite clauses'. (You can access the Professional development pages in the 'Content menu' on the left.)

Finite clauses are marked for tense, either by using a present tense or a past tense form of a verb:

  • I know that he visits/visited them.

Nonfinite clauses do not have their tense marked. They contain nonfinite verb forms:

  • I plan to visit them.

(This is an example of a to-infinitive clause.)

  • I remember visiting them.

(This is an example of a present participle clause.)

Nonfinite clauses can function in many different ways. In this activity we will work with examples where nonfinite clauses function as Adverbials in larger structures. Sentences involving this kind of Adverbial can often be rewritten as a separate sentence.

A present participle clause has no tensed verb but contains a verb in the present participle form:

  • Talking to reporters in Glasgow, he said that fighting had erupted this morning when encircled Iraqi troops had tried to escape towards Basra. [S2B-004 #44]

Here the verb talking is in the present participle form and the clause has no Subject. Who is doing the talking, and when? We don’t know until we reach the main clause Subject (he) and tensed verb (said).

If we break this sentence up into two complete sentences, it will look something like this:

  • He talked to reporters in Glasgow. He said that fighting had erupted this morning when encircled Iraqi troops had tried to escape towards Basra.

See if you can spot the changes we had to make in order to split up the sentence:

  • before: Talking to reporters in Glasgow, ...
  • after: He talked to reporters in Glasgow. ...

We had to change the nonfinite present participle form of the verb (talking) to a tensed form (talked), and we had to add a Subject (he) before the verb.

Activity 1 can be found in the menu entitled 'This Unit' in the upper right corner of this page. The slides in Activity 1 can be displayed on a whiteboard or smart board. These slides follow the process we have just demonstrated: students are given an example sentence with a present participle clause, and are asked to break the single sentence into two sentences. Clicking on the 'Answer' button reveals the solution for each example.

Activity 2 can also be found in the menu entitled 'This Unit' in the upper right corner of this page. The slides in Activity 2 can be displayed on a whiteboard or smart board. These slides reverse the process in Activity 1. This time students will be given two complete sentences to be rewritten into one sentence by using a present participle clause. As a hint, we have highlighted the verb that should be turned into a present participle form.

After students have made the transformations in each activity, ask them to discuss the different effects that each version might have. Ask the following questions:

  • Would we be more likely to write one version than the other? Why or why not?
  • Is there a difference in effect between one version and another? If so, what is the difference?

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