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I've looked at other answers, but am still confused - so please don't shoot me down (as tends to happen here) - but rather help if you can for the sake of my little learners. I have to teach a class on this in two days and I suspect that the text provided for me is wrong:

Walking to school, I spotted a car driving erratically toward me.

I would say that "Walking to school" is a participle phrase as it has no subject, but my text says that it is a participle clause. How can it be a clause when there is no subject at that beginning end of the sentence? I've read of implied subjects - i.e. the person walking and the person spotting are one and the same here. Does that count?

Again, sorry if this is an obvious question to some, but you folks here know heaps and I want to give my little guys accurate info, which is truly hard when it comes to clauses!

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    But walking toward me doesn't appear in your example sentence. If your example sentence is actually the one to which the text refers, can you edit it to put the relevant words in bold text? That aside, there are both dependent and independent clauses. Dependent clauses don't require a subject, they simply provide additional information to an independent clause. In this sense, walking toward me could be considered a "participle dependent clause." (And your text is just not specific enough.) – Jason Bassford Jul 17 '18 at 14:04
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    How old are your 'little guys'? Do they need to know more than the simplistic (and traditional) explanation that a clause has a subject and predicate (containing a finite verb) and a phrase is a semantic unit that is part of a clause? – Shoe Jul 17 '18 at 14:51
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    Almost all phrases can be viewed as the remains of departed clauses, especially if they start with a verbal form. – John Lawler Jul 17 '18 at 19:20
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    Just a note about the system - if you put an @ symbol before the name (like @Brenda), they are notified about your comment by way of the in-tray in the menu bar. Otherwise, they might not see it. You can only notify one person per comment explicitly in this fashion. The exceptions (those that are notified automatically) are the poster and sometimes the first commenter. – Lawrence Jul 19 '18 at 3:06
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    On page 81 of The Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics (published in 2013) it states in the entry under Clause: 'a group of words which form a grammatical unit and which contain a subject and a finite verb'. Later in the same entry it says: 'A phrase is a group of words which form a grammatical unit. A phrase does not contain a finite verb and does not have a subject predicate structure.' This is the simplistic account I was referring to in my comment above, and in our school is considered sufficient information for grade 7 students. ... – Shoe Jul 19 '18 at 9:31
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A clause always has a verb, but that verb may be of two sorts:

  1. a finite verb clause: one inflected for person, number, and tense
  2. a non-finite verb clause: one that is NOT inflected for person, number, and tense

The clause further contains all the arguments for a verb. However, the subject argument is optional in non-finite verb clauses. These are the kind that you may have learned to call “verb phrases” rather than “verb clauses”.

Sometimes non-finite clauses do have subjects. Here’s an infinitive clause with a subject:

  • For John to quit now would be a scandal.

That uses a for-complementizer to give to quit a subject of John. We keep the complementizer but insert a dummy-it when reversing that copula:

  • It would be a scandal for John to quit now.

With -ing verbs, no for-complementizer is needed, nor allowed:

  • John quitting now would be a scandal.

When your non-finite clause is a gerund–participle (GP) one, you can also use a possessive for the logical subject of the non-finite clause. These are both grammatical:

  • I see John quitting now as completely scandalous.
  • I see John’s quitting now as completely scandalous.

In your own example:

Walking to school, I spotted a car driving erratically toward me.

You have a gerund-participle (GP) clause that’s acting as some sort of adjunct. It’s an adjunct, not an argument. You can remove it without “breaking” your sentence.

Under one possible analysis, your GP clause would be considered an adnominal adjunct, one modifying only the subject. (It’s probably easier to call these by their shorter name, noun adjuncts.)

However, under another possible analysis your GP clause is an adverbial adjunct, one that applies to the predicate or the entire sentence as a whole.

A different kind of participle (the past/passive one, not the present/active one) can be used to form a nominative absolute:

  • Breakfast finished, I hurried off to school.

Your GP clause is not an absolute construction the way that freestanding noun plus participle is in the example I just gave, but exactly which sort of adjunct you choose to call it — adnominal or adverbial — can be argued either way. And often is.

Consider these variants:

  1. Luckily, I spotted a car driving erratically toward me.
  2. Walking to school, I spotted a car driving erratically toward me.
  3. Ten minutes later, I spotted a car driving erratically toward me.
  4. Tuesday morning, I spotted a car driving erratically toward me.
  5. Early this morning, I spotted a car driving erratically toward me.
  6. Along my morning walk, I spotted a car driving erratically toward me.

To my mind those are all structurally similar in that they have some sort of adverbial phrase at their start, one which applies to the entire sentence following it. For your GP case, that’s easily converted into a normal prepositional phrase or subordinate clause:

  1. Upon walking to school, I spotted a car driving erratically toward me.
  2. When walking to school, I spotted a car driving erratically toward me.
  3. While walking to school, I spotted a car driving erratically toward me.
  4. While I was walking to school, I spotted a car driving erratically toward me.
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  • Thank you tcchrist. What you are saying, as I understand it, is that "Walking to school" is an adverbial phrase. This is what I thought, but my text says that it is a participle clause. The textbook says as follows: – Brenda Jul 19 '18 at 14:55
  • "In this set the focus is on participle clauses. A participle clause is a type of adverbial clause (a subordinate clause that provides detials about one or more actions) which enables information to be provided in a more economical way. We use the participle clause whenever two or more actions have the same subject". – Brenda Jul 19 '18 at 14:59
  • *details ……………. – Brenda Jul 19 '18 at 15:16

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