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?


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
  • 1
    @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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