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9. Participles used as adjectives before and after nouns

Participles as adjectives cannot always be used before nouns. We can say an interesting book or a broken window but it is not normal to say the climbing man or the discussed problems. Why is this?

When we put a participle before the noun, it is usually expresses some more permanent characteristic: it is more like an adjective than a verb. If we talk about an interesting book we probably do not mean that the book is interesting somebody at the moment we speak; we are talking about a general quality of the book. On the other hand, if we talk about a man climbing on a rock, or about the problems discussed at the meeting, or the window broken last night, we are thinking more of the actions. Compare:

I’ll never get married - I don’t want to spend my life surrounded by dirty washing and screaming children.

Did you hear that child screaming?

In the first sentence. the speaker suggests that screaming is a permanent characteristic of children; in the second, screaming refers to a single action.

Here are some more expressions in which the participle must go after the / noun:

the only place left the people taking part

any person objecting all children wishing to compete

the success just obtained

Most of the people singing were students.

Many of the people questioned refused to answer.

It is not always easy to explain why one participle can be used before a noun (a lost dog), but another one cannot (a built house). This is a complicated area of English grammar which has not been completely analysed.

Note also that many past participles can be put before a noun only if they are used in the compound adjective structure adverb + participle. We cannot say *a built house or * the mentioned point but we can say a recently-built house or the above-mentioned point.

10. Misrelated participles

A participle is considered to belong to the noun/pronoun which precedes it:

Tom, horrified at what he had done, could at first say nothing.

Romeo, believing that Juliet was dead, decided to kill himself.

A man carrying a large parcel got out of the bus.

Note that the participle may be separated from its noun/pronoun by a main verb:

Jones and Smith came in, followed by their wives.

She rushed past the policeman, hoping he wouldn't ask what she had in her suitcase.

If there is no noun/pronoun in this position the participle is considered to belong to the subject of the following main verb:

Stunned by the blow, Peter fell heavily.(Peter had been stunned.)

Believing that he is alone, the villain expresses his thoughts aloud.

If this principle is disregarded confusion results.

Waiting for a bus a brick fell on my head makes it appear that the brick was waiting for a bus, which is nonsense.

A participle linked in this way to the wrong noun/pronoun is said to be 'misrelated'. The above sentence should be rewritten As I was waiting for a bus a brick fell on my head. Other examples of misrelated participles:

When using this machine it must be remembered . . .

Correct form: When using this machine you must remember . . .

Believing that I was the only person who knew about this beach, the sight of someone else on it annoyed me very much.

Correct form: As / believed I was the only person etc.

or Believing that I was the only person on the beach, I was an noyed by the sight of someone else.