I know that participial phrases function as adjectives, but I was wondering how exactly they modify the noun.

Adjectives can modify nouns in three ways

(1) What kind (2) Which one (3) How many

In this sentence:

Walking on the beach, Delores dodged jellyfish that had washed ashore

The participial phrase "walking on the beach" modifies the noun Dolores. But I'm trying to understand how exactly it modifies the noun. In my mind this phrase explains what Dolores was doing, but that doesn't fall into the framework of "what kind", "which one", or "how many".

Any help would be appreciated.


  • Welcome to English Language and Usage. Can you tell us why you said "I know that a participial phrases function as adjective to modify a noun"? Did you read it in a grammar book? What's the source?
    – user140086
    Jan 2, 2017 at 20:35
  • 1
    And why do you think the preposed participial phrase modifies Delores? It could just as easily "modify" the main clause, just as Yesterday might. Jan 2, 2017 at 20:46

1 Answer 1


Participials can operate as adjectives, verbs, gerunds (nouns), or part of a participial phrase functioning as an adverb (The Chicago Manual of Style). There is a certain matter of semantics as essentially they are verbs being asked to perform other functions by the circumstances.

Adjective: Delores's walking routine kept her in shape. ["Walking" modifies "routine."]

Gerund: Walking is good for you. ["Walking" is the subject of the sentence.]

Verb: Delores is walking on the beach.

Participial phrase acting as an adverb: Walking on the beach, Delores dodged a jellyfish.

In your example, walking modifies dodged. How did she dodge? By walking. Your phrase is an adverb. In fact, I can't offhand think of a way for a particpial phrase to function as an adjective.

  • Walking by its lonesome is probably just a deverbal noun not a gerund. Try this: Walking quickly is good for you. Now it's an actual gerund. Otherwise it might just be Regular walking is good for you which is merely a noun with an adjective not a verb with an adverb.
    – tchrist
    Jan 3, 2017 at 4:47
  • With a grumbling lion, that's merely an adjective not a participle. With a lion grumbling loudly now you have a real participle because it's an actual verb doing verb things. Gerunds and participles are verbs. If they lose that property then they aren't gerunds and participles any longer, merely nouns and adjectives once they're defrocked.
    – tchrist
    Jan 3, 2017 at 4:53
  • Unless her stick is actually walking around on its own somewhere, then walking in “walking stick” is a noun not an adjective. It is a stick that’s FOR walking, not a stick that IS walking. Yes, this is confusing!:) This is the difference between running water where running is an adjective; running shoes where it is a noun; and running scared, running drugs, and running quickly where it is a verb in all three. As a verb it might be a substantive use and get called a gerund, or it might be a modifier use and get called a participle. Or you may not be able to tell.
    – tchrist
    Jan 3, 2017 at 15:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.