Participial Phrases Are Powerful

One student asked me to explain the difference between these two sentences:

  1. I saw a cat jump in the car.
  2. I saw a cat jumping in the car.

In #1,the cat jumped one time only. (saw = simple past tense)

In #2, the cat jumped many times (jumping = continuing action in progress).

These sentences may appear to be almost identical, but grammar-wise, they are very different.

#1 uses a bare infinitive phrase (jump in the car) to modify “cat”. This usage applies only to sense verbs (see, feel, smell, hear, notice, observe, watch). I saw a cat [jump in the car].

#2 uses a participial phrase. I saw a cat [jumping in the car]. This sentence has one clause (I saw a cat) where “cat” is the direct object of that clause. Note that “jumping in the car”is a participial phrase acting as an adjective to modify/describe the cat.

Consider these two sentences:

I saw a jumping cat. I saw a cat jumping.

In both cases, “jumping” is a participle acting as an adjective. These two sentences have the same meaning. However, by placing the participle AFTER the noun (cat), that participle can be converted into a participial phrase to add more information.

I saw a cat jumping in the car.

I saw a cat jumping across a ditch.

I saw a cat jumping up and down on a hot tin roof.

Note that a phrase is different than a clause. These are phrases because they do NOT have a subject and verb. “Jumping” is not a verb. It is a verbal, a verb form acting as an adjective.

I encourage students to post some sentences here using some participial phrases.

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