Painting with participles
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Painting with Participles. Many authors say that writers need to show a story rather than tell a story—or paint a picture of words, like creating a literal virtual reality. An amateur tells a story, and a pro writer shows a story. The amateur writes: “Bill was nervous.”

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Painting with Participles

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Painting with participles

Painting with Participles

Painting with participles

Many authors say that writers need to show a story rather than tell a story—or paint a picture of words, like creating a literal virtual reality.

An amateur tells a story, and a pro writer shows a story.

Painting with participles

The amateur writes: “Bill was nervous.”

The pro writes: “Bill sat in the dentist’s waiting room, peeling the skin at the edge of his thumb, until the raw, red flesh began to show. Biting the torn cuticle, he ripped it away, and sucked at the warm sweetness of his own blood.”

Which one can you picture in your mind?

Painting with participles

No one has to tell the reader that Bill is nervous. The reader can watch the images unfold and make conclusions as if he or she can actually see Bill do those things in the waiting room.

Painting with participles

Just like in painting, it takes technique to truly paint an image.

Today, we are going to “paint” with participles.

Painting with participles1

Painting with Participles

A participle is a form of a verb that can act as an adjective—or, more simply, is a verb with an –ed or –ing ending that describes a noun or pronoun in the sentence.

We are focusing on participles that describe the subject of a sentence.

Painting with participles

Original sentence: The diamond-scaled snakes attacked their prey.

Revised sentence with a few participles: Hissing, slithering, and coiling, the diamond-scaled snakes attacked their prey.

Another revised sentence with participles and modifiers (further describe subject with nouns): Hissing their forked red tongues and coiling their cold bodies, the diamond-scaled snakes attacked their prey.

Participles by hemingway

Participles by Hemingway

Shifting the weight of the line to his left shoulder and kneeling carefully, he washed his hand in the ocean and held it there, submerged, for more than a minute, watching the blood trail away and the steady movement of the water against his hand as the boat moved.—Old Man and the Sea

Participles by suzanne collins in the hunger games

Participles by Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games

Concealed by a clump of bushes, I flatten out my belly and slide under a two-foot stretch that’s been loose for years.

The fireball hits a tree off to my left, engulfing it in flames.

I know I need to keep moving, but I’m trembling and light-headed now, gasping for air.

He leans down and rips the bandage off his leg, eliminating the final barrier between his blood and the earth.

Participles painted by students

Participles Painted by Students

Flying through the air on the wings of a dream, the Olympic long jumper thrust the weight of his whole body forward.—Cathleen Conry

The rhino, caught in the tangled rope, looked for freedom.—Erika Schreckengost

Melody froze, dripping with sweat, hoping with all her might that they wouldn’t hear the noise. –Becky Swab

The clown, appearing bright and cheerful, smiled and did his act with unusual certainty for someone who had just killed a man.—Christi Flick

Painting with participles

Participles and participial phrases are “extra” descriptions.

  • The sentence without them must be complete.

  • A lot of times they are set off by commas.

  • Verbs that end in –ing or –ed (called participles) only work if they are “extra” descriptions for a noun or pronoun, not when they are normal verbs.

  • They are not adverbs, which are verbs often ending in ly.

Your turn

Your Turn

Choose a suspenseful topic to write about (ex. Haunted house, the woods at night, etc.)

Paint your sentences with participles.

Underline each participle used in your writing.

Write at least 3 sentences with participles.

You will turn this in.



Lost and frightened, I searched for any sign of help in the woods.

I stopped, frozen in time, as I listened to the whisper of crunching leaves.

My predator, breathing heavily, watching me, was getting closer.



Noden, Harry R. Image Grammar. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1999.

Present participles

Present Participles

Present participles end in –ing.


Mr. Sanchez rescued three people from the burning building.

Chasing the cat, the dog ran down the street.

What do the present participles modify?

Past participles

Past Participles

Past participles usually end in –d or –ed. Some past participles are irregular though.


Well trained, the soldier successfully carried out her mission.

We skated on the frozen pond.

What words do they modify?

Painting with participles

Be careful not to confuse participles used as adjectives with verbs!

Adjective: Discouraged, the fans went home.

Verb: The fans were discouraged by the string of losses.

Adjective: Singing cheerfully, the birds perched among the branches of the trees.

Verb: The birds were singing cheerfully among the branches of the trees.

The participial phrase

The Participial Phrase

A participial phrase consists of a participle together with all its modifiers and complements. The entire phrase is an adjective.


Stretching slowly, the cat jumped down from the windowsill.

The tornado predicted by the meteorologist did not hit our area.

Reading the assignment, she took notes carefully.

Painting with participles

A participial phrase should be close to the noun it modifies. Otherwise it might appear to modify another word in the sentence.

Misplaced: Hopping along the fence, I saw a rabbit.

Corrected: I saw a rabbithopping along the fence.

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