What Are Participles? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Participles

A participle is a verb form that can be used (1) as an adjective, (2) to create verb tense, or (3) to create the passive voice.

There are two types of participles:
participles

(Function 1) Participles as Adjectives

Examples of Participles Being Used as Adjectives

Here are some present and past participles being used as adjectives:
The VerbThe Present ParticipleThe Past Participle
To risethe rising sunthe risen sun
To boilthe boiling waterthe boiled water
To breakthe breaking newsthe broken news
To cookthe cooking hamthe cooked ham

More Examples of Present Participles as Adjectives

Remember that present participles end in -ing. Here are some more examples:
  • boiling water
  • caring nature
  • deserving recipient
Here are some real-life examples of present participles (shaded) being used as adjectives:
  • A laughing man is stronger than a suffering man. (Gustave Flaubert, 1821-1880)
  • If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. (Mark Twain, 1835-1910)
  • The only thing that comes to a sleeping man is dreams. (Tupac Shakur)

More Examples of Past Participles as Adjectives

Remember that past participles have various endings, usually -ed, -d, -t, -en, or -n. Here are some more examples:
  • broken window
  • painted frame
  • destroyed bridge
Here are some real-life examples of past participles (shaded) being used as adjectives:
  • A swollen eye is God's way of telling you to improve your interpersonal skills.
  • Do not waste time staring at a closed door.
  • I like children...if they're properly cooked. (W.C. Fields)
  • (Don't forget that an adjective can also appear after the noun it is modifying. See predicate adjectives.)

Participle Phrases

It is really common to see participles in participle phrases. A participle phrase also acts like an adjective. In the examples below, the participle phrases are shaded and the participles are in bold:
  • The man carrying the bricks is my father.
  • (The participle phrase carrying the bricks describes the the man.)
  • She showed us a plate of scones crammed with cream.
  • (The participle phrase crammed with cream describes the scones.)
  • Whistling the same tune as always, Ted touched the front of his cap with his forefinger as she dismounted.
  • (The participle phrase Whistling the same tune as always describes Ted.)
  • Stunned by the blow, Mike quickly gathered his senses and searched frantically for the pepper spray.
  • (The participle phrase Stunned by the blow describes Mike.)
Read more about participle phrases.

(Function 2) Participles to Form Verb Tense

Participles are not just used as adjectives. They are also used to form verb tenses.

Present Participles in Verb Tenses

Here are the verb tenses that are formed using present participles (shaded):
The 4 Past Tenses Example
simple past tense I went
past progressive tense I was going
past perfect tense I had gone
past perfect progressive tenseI had been going
The 4 Present Tenses Example
simple present tense I go
present progressive tense I am going
present perfect tense I have gone
present perfect progressive tense I have been going
The 4 Future Tenses Example
simple future tense I will go
future progressive tense I will be going
future perfect tense I will have gone
future perfect progressive tense I will have been going
Read more about present participles.

Past Participles in Verb Tenses

Here are the verb tenses that are formed using past participles (shaded):
The 4 Past Tenses Example
simple past tense I went
past progressive tense I was going
past perfect tense I had gone
past perfect progressive tenseI had been going
The 4 Present Tenses Example
simple present tense I go
present progressive tense I am going
present perfect tense I have gone
present perfect progressive tense I have been going
The 4 Future Tenses Example
simple future tense I will go
future progressive tense I will be going
future perfect tense I will have gone
future perfect progressive tense I will have been going
Read more about past participles.

(Function 3) Past Participles to Form the Passive Voice

Past participles are also used to form the passive voice. A verb is said to be in the "passive voice" when its subject does not perform the action of the verb but has the action of the verb performed on it. For example:
  • The painting was taken to the auction.
  • (This is an example of a verb ("was taken") in the passive voice. The action was done to the subject ("the painting").)
Conversely, when the subject of the sentence is acting out the verb, the verb is said to be in active voice. For example:
  • Toby took the painting to the auction.
  • (This is an example of a verb ("took") in the active voice. The subject ("Toby") did the action.)
Read more about the passive voice.

Forming the Passive Voice

The passive voice is form as follows:

[verb "to be"] + [past participle]

In these examples, the verb "to be" is bolded and the past participles are shaded:
  • The convict was captured after just two hours on the run.
  • The goats are milked twice a day.
  • My VIPs will be flown to the stadium by helicopter.
Here, for references purposes, is a list of all the forms of the passive voice. Note that past participles feature in every version.

(NB: Don't be alarmed by the complexity of the structures in this table. Some of these tenses are rarely accounted in the passive voice.)
The 4 Past TensesExample
Simple Past Tense (Passive Voice)The cake was eaten this morning.
Past Progressive Tense (Passive Voice)The cake was being eaten during the morning.
Past Perfect Tense (Passive Voice)The cake had been eaten before breakfast.
Past Perfect Progressive Tense (Passive Voice)The cake had been being eaten years before the invention of pasteurization.
The 4 Present TensesExample
Simple Present Tense (Passive Voice)The cake is eaten for breakfast
Present Progressive Tense (Passive Voice)The cake is being eaten across the town.
Present Perfect Tense (Passive Voice)The cake has been eaten since at least 1914.
Present Perfect Progressive Tense (Passive Voice)The cake has been being eaten since before pasteurization.
The 4 Future TensesExample
Simple Future Tense (Passive Voice)The cake will be eaten by the staff.
Future Progressive Tense (Passive Voice)The cake will be being eaten during the speeches.
Future Perfect Tense (Passive Voice)The cake will have been eaten before the dancing starts.
Future Perfect Progressive Tense (Passive Voice)The cake will have been being eaten for over two centuries by then.

Perfect Participles

Before we end this lesson on participles, there is another term we should cover quickly: "perfect participles."

Perfect participles are formed like this:

"Having" + [past participle]

Examples:
  • Having taken
  • Having eaten
  • Having played
Some more examples of perfect participles (shaded):
  • Having heard the news, he quickly sold his brother's record collection.
  • Having been promised a steak dinner, she looked less than impressed with her Happy Meal.
Don't think of the perfect participle as a third type of participle. It is just a commonly used structure that features a present participle ("having") and a past participle (e.g., "taken," "eaten," "played").

Why Should I Care about Participles?

If you're learning or teaching English, then understanding participles is essential because adjectives, verb tense, and the passive voice are language essentials.

If you're a native English speaker, then you almost certainly use present and past participles without giving the grammar a second thought. And, as a rule, participles are not responsible for many writing errors among native speakers.

What's more interesting is that participles can provide some worthwhile benefits. With that in mind, here are two good reason to think about participles a little more than you might have done previously.

(Reason 1) Participles allow a sentence structure that lets you say two or more things tidily.

Participles can be used to create a sentence structure that allows you to say two or more things about your subject efficiently. For example:
  • Imbued with common sense and technical know-how, Jack is adept at identifying cost-effective solutions to business problems.
  • (This example features a past participle (bold) in a participle phrase (shaded).)
  • Demonstrating level headedness in all business dealings, Jill listens actively and engages appropriately when in disagreement.
  • (This example features a present participle (bold) in a participle phrase (shaded).)
This participle-phrase upfront structure is particularly useful when writing personal appraisals. It allows you to shoehorn in an extra observation about your subject in a single sentence.

Read more about the benefits of using participles on the non-finite verbs page.

(Reason 2) Passive sentences have some great benefits.

As past participles are used to create passive sentences, it is worth mentioning here that passive sentences have some great benefits. More specifically, passive sentences are useful to:
    (1) Avoid blame.
    (2) Show a neutral or objective tone.
    (3) Show the doer is unimportant, unknown, or obvious.
    (4) Emphasize the subject.
    (5) Use the same subject twice.
Read more about these benefits of passive sentences.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What are participle phrases? What are dangling modifiers? What are verbs? What are adjectives? What are present participles? What are past participles? What is verb tense? Glossary of grammatical terms