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participial or relative clause?
Laos street to river

Tamas Hoczat from Hungary writes:
I’m learning about relative clauses. I’ve got two sentences:

  • At the end of the street there is a path leading to the river.
  • At the end of the street there is a path that leads to the river.

    Are both of them correct? Which one should I use? Thank you for helping me.
Roger replies: more questions

Both are perfectly correct and sound perfectly natural in this example, so use either or both. Generally speaking, the participial clause, starting with -ing or -ed, is more characteristic of written English, as it allows us to say the same thing as a relative clause, starting with who, which or that, but with fewer words.

Participial clauses are also frequently heard in radio and TV news broadcasts (as well as newspaper articles and reports) as they permit a lot of information to be compressed into a limited amount of time. This is one reason why they are often difficult for a learner of English to follow.

The reporting of The Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs’ arrival back in the UK a couple of weeks ago as he stepped off the plane after 35 years on the run in Australia and Brazil was reported as follows:

"The only glimpse of Biggs, dressed in blue shirt and green sweater, lasted only a few seconds. Lawyers acting for Biggs have said they will seek a hearing before the Court of Appeal".

A participial clause, starting with –ed or past participle, is used instead of a relative pronoun plus passive voice. Study these further examples:
  • Food sold (= which is sold) in this supermarket is of the highest quality.
  • Anyone found touching (= who is found ) these priceless exhibits will be escorted out of the museum.
  • The tailback on the A34 caused ( = which was caused / which had been caused) by the head-on collision stretched for over 20 miles in both directions.
  • It took the ambulances called ( = that were called / that had been called) to the scene over half an hour to get through.
A participial clause, starting with -ing is used instead of a relative pronoun plus active verb, continuous or simple.
  • The train now arriving (= which is now arriving) at platform 1 is the 6.36 from Newcastle.
  • There are delays for people travelling to work (= who are travelling to work) on Southern Region trains this morning.
  • Anyone touching (= who touches ) these priceless exhibits will be escorted out of the museum.
  • The police impounded all the vehicles belonging to (= which belonged to) his brother.
  • The boy driving (= who was driving) the BMW was underage, unlicensed and over the limit.
Note that when we are talking about a single completed action in a defining relative clause, we cannot use an active participle:
  • The girl who fell down the cliff broke her leg.
    (NOT: The girl falling down cliff…)

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