Participle Clauses

Introduction

Participle clauses are dependent clauses with the participe présent, participe passé or participe composé. They always refer to the subject of the accompanying main clause.

Beispiel

Les cheveux lavés, Suzanne saisit le sèche-cheveux et les ciseaux.

Tenant le sèche-cheveux dans la main gauche, Suzanne coupa ses cheveux de la main droite.

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Usage

We mostly use participle clauses in written language, and only rarely in speech.

Participle clauses can be constructed with the participe présent, the participe passé and the participe composé.

  • We use the participe présent to express that both actions take place at the same time.
    Example:
    Tenant le sèche-cheveux dans la main gauche, Suzanne coupa ses cheveux de la main droite.Holding the hairdryer in her left hand, Suzanne cut her hair with her right hand.

    Suzanne held the hairdryer in her left hand and simultaneously cut her hair with her right hand.

  • We use the participe passé to express that the action in the participle clause took place before the action in the main clause.
    Example:
    Les cheveux lavés, Suzanne saisit le sèche-cheveux et les ciseaux.Her hair washed, Suzanne picked up the hairdryer and the scissors.

    First Suzanne washed her hair. Then she picked up the hairdryer and the scissors.

  • The participe composé – similarly to the participe passé – expresses anteriority. This construction puts more emphasis on the subject, however, especially in active forms.
    Example:
    Ayant coupé ses cheveux, Suzanne ne se reconnut pas dans le miroir.Having cut her hair, Suzanne didn’t recognise herself in the mirror.

Construction

We use a participle clause to connect two sentences by turning the full verb into a participle.

Example:
Suzanne se lava les cheveux. Puis elle saisit le sèche-cheveux et les ciseaux.Suzanne washed her hair. Afterwards she picked up the hairdryer and scissors.
Les cheveux lavés, Suzanne saisit le sèche-cheveux et les ciseaux.Her hair washed, Suzanne picked up the hairdryer and scissors.
  • The participe présent is active and has an unchanging form.
    Example:
    Tenant le sèche-cheveux dans la main gauche,…Holding the hairdryer in her left hand, …
  • The participe passé is similar to a passive construction and agrees with the subject.
    Example:
    Les cheveux lavésHair washed, …
    La coiffure finieThe hairstyle finished, …
  • We construct the participe composé by using the participe présent of avoir or être and the participe passé.
    Example:
    Ayant vu une jolie coiffure dans un magazine, elle voulait la même.Having seen a pretty hairstyle in a magazine, she wanted the same one.

Tips on the usage of the participe passé and the participe composé

Since both the participe passé and the participe composé indicate anteriority, sometimes both forms can be correct in the same context. In the following cases, however, the participe composé has to be used instead of the participe passé.

  • for verbs in the active voice without a direct object
    Example:
    Ayant réfléchi, elle savait quelle coiffure elle voulait.Having thought about it, she knew which hairstyle she wanted.
  • with aller
    Example:
    Étant déjà allée chez le coiffeur, elle avait pu observer ses gestes.Having already gone to the hairdresser, she had been able to observe his actions.
  • Conjunctions that indicate temporal relations are omitted in a participle clause, because we can tell from the participle itself whether the action takes place before (participe passé or participe composé) or at the same time as (participe présent) the action in the main clause.
    Example:
    Pendant que Suzanne tenait le sèche-cheveux dans la main gauche, elle coupait ses cheveux de la main droite.While Suzanne held the hairdryer in her left hand, she cut her hair with the right one.
    Tenant le sèche-cheveux dans la main gauche, Suzanne se coupa les cheveux de la main droite.Holding the hairdryer in her left hand, Suzanne cut her hair with her right hand.

    Simultaneity → participe présent

    Après que les cheveux furent lavés, Suzanne saisit le sèche-cheveux et les ciseaux.After her hair had been washed, Suzanne picked up the hairdryer and the scissors.
    → Les cheveux lavés, Suzanne saisit le sèche-cheveux et les ciseaux.Hair washed, Suzanne picked up the hairdryer and scissors.
    or → Ayant lavé ses cheveux, Suzanne saisit le sèche-cheveux et les ciseaux.Having washed her hair, Suzanne picked up the hairdryer and scissors.

    anteriority → participe passé or participe composé

(see also Participles)