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I am teaching about participial phrases these days, and all examples I am able to find online have the phrases paired with simple tenses. For example:

Removing his glasses, Kent Clark quickly put on his cape.

Running up to the boy, the dog hopes that he will have a treat.

Eaten by mosquitos, we wished that we have stayed at home.

I seldom see participial phrases paired with a continuous tense, thus I want to know if there's a rule to this.

For example:

Watching the crime happening, I was calling the police for help.

Is this possible we use the past continuous for the clause, or we must use the simple past tense?

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It is not the case that you must use the simple aspect in a clause following a participial phrase. If you want to convey that the action or state of the verb was ongoing, then the continuous aspect is appropriate. For example:

  • Walking into the exam room, I was hoping that I'd studied hard enough.

  • Woken by the dog's barking, we were trying to get back to sleep when suddenly the phone rang.

The use of the continuous aspect in 'Watching the crime happening, I was calling the police for help conveys to me that the speaker was having trouble getting through to the police, i.e. that the calling or the attempt to get a connection took place over an unspecified amount of time.

  • It is true that I am trying to express how there's trouble connecting the police. And your explanation has fully cleared my doubt. Thank you! – Miss Joey Jun 13 at 6:42
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    @Miss Joey. I think most native speakers would say "I was trying to call the police" and not just "I was calling the police". – Shoe Jun 14 at 7:04

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