What Are Past Participles?
Past ParticiplesA past participle is a word that (1) formed from a verb, (2) is used as an adjective or to form verb tense, and (3) probably ends with "-ed," "-d," "-t," "-en," or "-n." For example:
Let's look at the verb to whisper:
- Here's the past participle: whispered
- Here it is used as an adjective: The whispered word
- Here it is used to form a verb tense: She had whispered him the answer.
- The Past Participle (Past participles usually end with "-ed," "-d," "-t," "-en," or "-n.")
- The Present Participle (All present participles end with "-ing.")
Examples of Past Participles Being Used As AdjectivesHere are some examples of past participles being used as adjectives:
|The Verb||The Past Participle|
|To swell||swollen eyes|
|To break||broken plate|
|To ruin||ruined cake|
More Examples of Past Participles Used as AdjectivesHere are some more examples of past participles (shaded) being used as adjectives:
- Here is a laminated copy to replace your torn one.
- Stuffed deer heads on walls are bad enough, but it's worse when they have streamers in their antlers because then you know they were enjoying themselves when they were shot. (TV host Ellen DeGeneres)
- A torn jacket is soon mended, but hard words bruise the heart of a child. (Poet Henry Longfellow)
- Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality. (Poet Oscar Wilde)
- The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on. (Author Joseph Heller)
Past Participles in Participle PhrasesPast participles can often be found in participle phrases. A participle phrase acts like an adjective. In the examples below, the participle phrases are shaded and the past participles are in bold:
- The boy taken to hospital has recovered. (The participle phrase "taken to hospital" describes "the boy.")
- I have a heart wracked with sorrow. (The participle phrase "wracked with sorrow" describes "a heart.")
- Battered by the wind, John fell to his knees. (The participle phrase ""Battered by the wind" describes "john.")
- Finally broken , Lee lowered his gloves. (The participle phrase "Finally broken" describes "Lee.")
Past Participles Used in Verb TensesAs well as being used as adjectives, past participles are also used to form verb tenses. Here are the verb tenses (past participles shaded):
|The 4 Past Tenses||Example|
|simple past tense||I broke|
|past progressive tense||I was breaking|
|past perfect tense||I had broken|
|past perfect progressive tense||I had been breaking|
|The 4 Present Tenses||Example|
|simple present tense||I break|
|present progressive tense||I am breaking|
|present perfect tense||I have broken|
|present perfect progressive tense||I have been breaking|
|The 4 Future Tenses||Example|
|simple future tense||I will break|
|future progressive tense||I will be breaking|
|future perfect tense||I will have broken|
|future perfect progressive tense||I will have been breaking|
More Examples of Past Participles Used in Verb TensesIn these examples, the past participles are shaded.
- I had crossed the line. I was free, but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land. (Political activist Harriet Tubman)
- I had seen birth and death but had thought they were different. (Poet T S Eliot)
- I phoned my dad to tell him I had stopped smoking. He called me a quitter.
- Don't take the wrong side of an argument just because your opponent has taken the right side.
- Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
- Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen. (British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli)
- I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.
- By September, Jenny will have taken over that role.
- I hope that, when I leave this planet, I will have touched a few people in a positive way. (Actor Will Rothhaar)
Forming the Past Participle (Regular Verbs)If it's a regular verb, the past participle is the same as the simple past tense. In other words, it is formed like this:
Add "ed" to most verbs:
- jump > jumped
- paint > painted
- chat > chatted
- stop > stopped
- sew > sewed
- play > played
- fix > fixed
- incur > incurred
- prefer > preferred
- open > opened
- enter > entered
- swallow > swallowed
- thrive > thrived
- guzzle > guzzled
- cry > cried
- fry > fried
Forming the Past Participle (Irregular Verbs)If it's an irregular verb, the past participle is formed in all sorts of different ways. Here are some examples:
- arise > arisen
- catch > caught
- choose > chosen
- know > known
Read more about irregular verbs (includes a list of the most common irregular verbs).
Why Should I Care about Past Participles?If you're learning or teaching English, then it is essential to have a good understanding of participles (past participles and present participles) because adjectives and verb tenses are fundamental building blocks when learning a language...any language.
As a rule, native speakers are good at using participles, i.e., they do not cause too many writing errors. However, the same cannot be said for participle phrases, which are responsible for a reasonably common error called a misplaced modifier.
It's not all bad news with participle phrases. They also offer a benefit.
Here are two good reasons to think a little more about past participles (specifically, past participles in participle phrases). Let's start with the benefit.
(Benefit 1) Use a fronted participle phrase to say two things about your subject efficiently.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 both common sense and enthusiasm, Patrick is always quick to find a cost-effective solution. (This example features a past participle (bold) in a participle phrase (shaded).)
Read more about the benefits of using participles on the "non-finite verbs" page.
(Trap 1) Beware misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers!When using the sentence structure in "Benefit 1," writers must be careful not to write an ambiguous sentence by failing to put the participle phrase next to the word it's modifying. For example:
- Imbued with both common sense and enthusiasm, senior managers routinely praise Patrick for his ability to find a cost-effective solution. (In this example, the participle phrase (shaded) could be modifying "senior managers" instead of "Patrick." This is called a misplaced modifier.)
- Imbued with both common sense and enthusiasm, Patrick routinely receives praise from senior managers for his ability to find a cost-effective solution. (The participle phrase is now next to "Patrick." The ambiguity has gone.)
- Imbued with both common sense and enthusiasm, senior managers routinely offer praise for his ability to find a cost-effective solution. (In this example, the participle phrase (shaded) has nothing to modifier. "Patrick" isn't even mentioned. This is called a dangling modifier.)
Read more about dangling modifiers.