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Tense of Participial Phrases


Now we have to add a caveat to something we said earlier, this leads us to our discussion of tenses of participial phrases. As we learned in a previous video, participles are the most versatile modifiers. But, in one way, they are limited, in regards to tense. The present participle in participle phrases get their tenses from the tense of the main verb.

So what do I mean by this? Consider these example sentences. Yesterday, I saw the man riding a bicy, riding a unicycle. Well, the riding happened in the past because the seeing happened in the past. Right now, I see a man riding a unicycle. Both the seeing and the riding are present.

If I go downtown later, I will see a man riding a unicycle. There, both the seeing and the riding are in the future. So the tense of the participial phrase automatically reflects the tense of the main verb. If the action in the modifier happens at a different time from the action of the main clause, we cannot use a participial phrase.

So, if I try to say something like, right now I see the man yesterday riding a unicycle. That is incorrect. We can't use a participle phrase, we have to use some other modifier. For example, here we use a relative clause. These we'll be discussing much later in the unit on modifiers and lotical, logical predication.

So the big idea right now is, when the action of the sentence and the action of the object happen at two different times, we need two different clauses. An independent clause and a modifying clause. A participial phrase with a present participle does not do the job.

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