Unit 7: Perfect Tenses and Participles

6. Participial Phrases

Both present and past participles are used in participial phrases.

Example using a present participle:

Im Garten spielend, sang das Kind.
Playing in the garden, the child sang.

Example using a past participle:

Immer an die Musik interessiert, ging der Student oft in die Oper.
Always interested in music, the student went to the opera often.

Note that the participle is functioning (and is located in final position) as if it were the main verb in a subordinate clause. Here’s how you could diagram the syntax of the above participial phrases:

Diagram of the participial phrase: Im Garten spielend:

verb: spielend
predicate (a prepositional phrase): im Garten

Diagram of the articipial phrase: Immer an die Musik interessiert:

verb: interessiert
predicate (a prepositional phrase): an die Musik
which is modified by an adverb: immer

This highlights a fundamental reading skill: how to mentally re-order German phrases so that they make sense to you in English. The various verb tenses covered in this unit all require you to look for a participle as marking the end of a phrase, and then to work backwards from that participle in order to find the object or predicate of the phrase. In the two examples above, see the pattern of word-order shifts between the German and English renditions of the participial phrases. You will find this re-ordering skill useful throughout this course.

Try solving this more complex example yourself:

Sein Handy in der linken Hand noch am Ohr haltend, reicht mir Thomas seine rechte Hand.

Diagram of the participial phrase Sein Handy in der linken Hand noch am Ohr haltend:

verb: haltend
object: sein Handy
prepositional phrase: in der linken Hand
prepositional phrase: am Ohr
which is modified by an adverb: noch


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