Participle Clauses – Word Order in German Grammar

Introduction

Participle clauses are dependent clauses that use a present or past participle. They always refer to the subject of the corresponding main clause. Participle clauses can make long dependent clauses shorter and help direct the reader’s attention to the main clause. They are relatively rare in modern German usage. We find them most often in novels and stories, but also in speech.

Learn about participle clauses in German grammar with Lingolia’s online lesson. In the exercises, you can practise the word order in participle clauses.

Example

Die Haare gewaschen, griff Susi zu Föhn und Schere.

Den Föhn in der linken Hand haltend, schnitt Susi sich rechts die Haare ab.

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Usage

There are two types of particple clauses in German grammar:

  • Use the past participle, to show that the action in the participle clause took place before the action in the main clause.
    Example:
    Die Haare gewaschen, griff Susi zu Föhn und Schere.Hair washed, Susi grabbed the hairdryer and scissors.

    First Susi washed her hair. Afterwards, she grabbed the hairdryer and scissors.

  • Use the present participle, to show that both actions take place at the same time.
    Example:
    Den Föhn in der linken Hand haltend, schnitt Susi sich rechts die Haare ab.Holding the hairdryer in her left hand, Susi cut her hair with her right.

    Susi held the hairdryer in her left hand and she cut her hair with her right hand at the same time.

Construction and Word Order of German Participle Clauses

  • There is no subject in a participle clause. The subject of the main clause is also the subject of the participle clause.
  • The full verb is turned into a participle and placed at the end of the participle clause.
  • Conjunctions and helping verbs, which are supposed to clarify temporal relationships, are not used in the participle clause. We can see from the participle whether the action takes place before (past participle) or at the same time (present participle) as the action in the main clause.
    Example:
    Während Susi den Föhn in der linken Hand hielt, schnitt sie sich rechts die Haare ab.While Susi held the hairdryer in her left hand, she cut her hair with her right.
    → Den Föhn in der linken Hand haltend, schnitt Susi sich rechts die Haare ab.Holding the hairdryer in her left hand, Susi cut her hair with her right.

    simultaneous action → present participle

    Nachdem sie die Haare gewaschen hatte, griff Susi zu Föhn und Schere.After she had washed her hair, Susi grabbed the hairdryer and scissors.
    → Die Haare gewaschen, griff Susi zu Föhn und Schere.Hair washed, Susi grabbed the hairdryer and scissors.

    one action takes place before the other → past participle

Conjugating the Present Participle

We form the present participle by adding a -d to the end of the infinitive.

Example:
föhnen → föhnend

The only exception to the rule is the verb sein.

Example:
sein → seiend

Conjugating the Past Participle

The past participle of regular verbs is constructed by adding ge...t.

Example:
föhnen → geföhnt
waschen → gewaschen

The past participle of most irregular verbs is constructed by adding ge...en.

Exceptions

  • Many strong and mixed verbs change the word stem in the past participle. (see List of Irregular Verbs)
    Example:
    gehen – gegangen
    bringen – gebracht
  • When the word stem ends in -d/-t, we add an -et for weak/mixed verbs.
    Example:
    warten – gewartet
  • When the infinitive ends in -ieren, the past participle is not formed with ge-.
    Example:
    studieren – studiert
  • When the verb is an inseparable verb, the past participle in not formed with ge-.
    Example:
    verstehen – verstanden
  • When the verb is a separable verb, ge- comes after the prefix.
    Example:
    ankommen – angekommen

Use the Lingolia verb conjugator to check the conjugation of a particular verb.