In recent writing and editing, I noticed that a participle phrase can sometimes be used interchangeably with a that/which phrase, and both options seem equally readable. The following sentences show an example:

Sentence 1: The building housing the Goldman Sachs office was refurnished.

Sentence 2: The building that houses the Goldman Sachs office was refurnished.

I'm wondering if there is, in prescriptive grammar/usage, a rule of thumb for when to use a participle phrase and when to use a that/which phrase.

I'm aware that readability is generally what's important, and I don't mean to lionize style guide rules. But, like many, I often write in settings where these rules are imperative.

  • 1
    The technical term for the construction you're calling a "that/which phrase" is a "relative clause". There are several kinds, but they can all involve that or some wh-word at the beginning, and in most cases such clauses can alternate with participle phrases as you describe. Note that the relative clauses are tensed (verb is present or past tense), while participles are untensed and have only participial suffixes, so it's not just a matter of leaving out words -- the verbs have to be changed as well. This is a transformation, an example of what's sometimes called "tranformational grammar". Oct 19, 2021 at 20:00
  • the building housing is not all that readable. Oct 20, 2021 at 3:37


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