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Participle

Prepositions, particles, participles, oh my! Grammar is filled with words you recognize, but you might not know how all those recognizable words slot into the vast cosmos of the English language. Participle is one such word and concept. In the most basic sense, a participle is a kind of verb that doesn’t play nicely; it doesn’t act like other verbs, so it gets a funny little name. Here’s what makes a participle a participle, which will include a definition, some examples, and an explanation of participle clauses and participle phrases.

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Participle

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Prepositions, particles, participles, oh my! Grammar is filled with words you recognize, but you might not know how all those recognizable words slot into the vast cosmos of the English language. Participle is one such word and concept. In the most basic sense, a participle is a kind of verb that doesn’t play nicely; it doesn’t act like other verbs, so it gets a funny little name. Here’s what makes a participle a participle, which will include a definition, some examples, and an explanation of participle clauses and participle phrases.

Participle Definition

The participle has an intriguing definition and function in English grammar.

A participle is a verb form that can function as an adjective or assist in certain verb tenses.

As such, a participle is a verb that shares much of its functionality with an adjective. The best way to show this is to provide an example.

I am loved.

Here, “loved” is a participle. You can see how it is formed from the verb “love,” but in this sentence, it’s used like an adjective, the way you might say, “I am happy.” Here’s another example of its use as an adjective.

Loved people are happy people.

“Loved” is again a participle, directly modifying “people” in the sentence. You can see how “loved people” functions the same as “happy people.”

Those are the basics of the participle. The next step is fleshing out participles using their specific types.

Participle Examples

There are three examples of participles: present, past, and perfect. Later on, you'll use some of these participles in verb tenses, clauses, and phrases. For now, just stick to memorizing what each looks like and its basic function!

Present Participle

The present participle ends in -ing.

Are you dreaming?

This is its use as a verb.

It can also be used as an adjective:

The climbing man could fall at any time.

Don’t confuse the present participle with the gerund. A gerund looks just like a present participle, except it acts as a noun. For example, in the sentence, “Climbing can be dangerous,” the word “climbing” is a gerund because it acts as a noun in the sentence. A gerund can be a subject or an object.

Past Participle

The past participle usually ends in -ed.

I have never laughed at those jokes.

You might think, “Well that’s easy. The past participle looks like the simple past tense.” This is true some of the time. However, irregular verbs often distinguish between the simple past tense and the past participle. Here are some examples.

Simple Past Tense

Past Participle

To go

Went

Gone

To fall

Fell

Fallen

To be

Was

Been

To swim

Swam

Swum

To eat

Ate

Eaten

To lie

Lay

Lain

You will often and instinctually intuit the past participle of a verb by conjugating, for example, "I have + past participle." For instance, you would say, “I have fallen,” and not “I have fell.”

As you saw earlier, you can also use the past participle as an adjective.

Loved people are happy people.

A participle is not a tense. Common past participles (such as “walked” in “she has walked”) might appear like the past tense, but don’t be fooled. You can spot the difference with irregular verbs, as already mentioned. For instance, “you fell” (past tense) vs. “you have fallen” (past participle used in the present perfect tense).

Perfect Participle

The perfect participle combines “having” with the past participle.

Having eaten the fruit, she felt queasy.

In this example, “having eaten” acts as an adjective because it describes the fruit as having been eaten.

You can frame the perfect participle in the active or passive voice. The following is the active voice:

  • Having run all day, he felt tired.

The passive construction uses “having been.” Here’s an example.

  • Having been the butt of her jokes all day, he felt tired.

Both of these are participle phrases, which will be discussed later on.

Participle Grammar

So now you know the three kinds of participles in English grammar. In what situations do you use participles, though?

Their use as adjectives is simple enough to grasp. However, there’s more to be said about their uses in verb conjugations. Here’s how participles are used in continuous tenses and perfect tenses.

Participles in Continuous Tenses

The continuous tense is a simple way of expressing that something is, was, or will be happening. It uses the present participle -ing.

Here is an example of the present continuous tense. This expresses that something is currently happening.

I am running away.

Here, “am running” is a compound verb. A compound verb consists of multiple words combined into a functionally single verb. Compound verbs are hallmarks of continuous and perfect tenses.

Here is an example of the past continuous tense. This expresses that something was happening in the past.

I was doing the dishes.

Finally, here is an example of the future continuous tense. This expresses that something will be happening in the future.

I will be going to the dance.

Participles in Perfect Tenses

To explore the use of participles in perfect tenses, take this sentence again, for example.

I have never laughed at those jokes.

This sentence is in the present perfect tense, using the construction of an auxiliary verb (to have) + a past participle (laughed). All the perfect tenses use the past participle. There are three perfect tenses.

The present perfect tense describes actions that are in some way continuous, actions that have just occurred, and previous actions where the time is not specific.

The past perfect tense places an action at some point in the past (e.g., “I had completed the task earlier in the day”). It may express doubt, unsureness, or a change about an action (e.g., “Hadn’t she won already?”).

The future perfect tense places an action at some point in the future (e.g., “I will have completed the task by tomorrow”). It may also express doubt, unsureness, or a change about an action (e.g., “Will you have finished by the end of the week?”).

To start, here is a chart of how you use the past participle in the present perfect tense.

Formula

Example

Affirmative

Subject + have/has + past participle

I have won.

Affirmative interrogative

Have/has + subject + past participle?

Have you won?

Negative

Subject +have/has not + past participle

She has not won.

Negative interrogative

Have/has not + subject + past participle?

Hasn’t she won?

To convert this to use in the past perfect tense or future perfect tense, you simply change the “have/has” to “had” in the past perfect tense and you add a “will” in the future tense. You formulate the “will” this way:

Formula

Example

Affirmative

Subject + will have + past participle

I will have competed.

Affirmative interrogative

Will + subject + have + past participle?

Will you have competed?

Negative

Subject + will not have + past participle

She will not have competed.

Negative interrogative

Will + subject + not have + past participle?

Will she not have competed?

These are the basic ways you use participles in verb conjugations. For the final part of the exercise, you should know how participles fit into the larger picture of clauses and phrases.

Participle Clause

A clause has both a subject and a predicate, and a participle clause will riff on that.

The predicate is a verb or a verb and its object.

Here are some example clauses.

The dog (subject) ate (predicate).

The dog (subject) ate its food (predicate).

That said, a clause isn't required to stand alone as a sentence. This is called a dependent clause because it depends on an independent clause like one of the above clauses.

The dog ate its food (independent clause) because the dog likes kibble (dependent clause).

“Because the dog likes kibble” is a dependent clause because, although it contains a subject (the dog) and a predicate (likes kibble), it cannot stand on its own. It lacks a complete idea due to the conjunction "because," unlike the preceding independent clause.

A participle clause is simply a kind of dependent clause that uses the present participle -ing.

Like this:

The dog ate candy, causing it to throw up.

A participle clause always takes a comma between the participle clause and the independent clause. You should place a participle clause closest to the verb or noun it explains. In this case, "causing" explains "ate."

Participle Phrase

Although the participle clause and participle phrase are often conflated, they are actually different things. This is because a phrase is not a clause.

A phrase is a group of words that communicate an idea but lacks a subject together with a predicate.

Here’s an example.

The very bright child

This is specifically a noun phrase: a noun and the words that modify it. However, as you can plainly see, this phrase lacks a predicate.

A participle phrase is a phrase that uses a past, present, or perfect participle.

Here are three examples. They use past, present, and perfect participles respectively.

Beaten by the other team, Alberta felt bad.

Thinking herself something of an expert, Alberta had expected to win.

Having creamed Alberta, Tabitha moved on to bigger and better things.

The phrases “beaten by the other team” and “thinking herself something of an expert” are phrases, not clauses, because they do not contain a subject and a predicate, and they are participle phrases because they hinge upon the use of a past or present participle.

Which just about covers participles! Hopefully, you feel a little more comfortable with the participle and its common uses in English grammar.

Participle - Key Takeaways

  • A participle is a verb form that can function as an adjective or assist in certain verb tenses.
  • The present participle ends in -ing (e.g., "Are you dreaming?").
  • The past participle ends in -ed usually (e.g., "I had loved") but it might be irregular (e.g., "I have gone").
  • You use the present participle in continuous tenses and the past participle in perfect tenses.
  • A participle clause is a dependent clause that uses a present participle, while a participle phrase is a phrase that uses a present or past participle.

Frequently Asked Questions about Participle

"Fallen" is an example of a participle, specifically a past participle. A participle is a verb form that can function as an adjective or assist in certain verb tenses.

Present, past, and perfect participles.

You can identify participles by their function and appearance. A present participle is a verb ending in -ing and can be used as an adjective or as part of the continuous verb tense. A past participle usually ends in -ed and can be used as an adjective or as part of the perfect verb tense.

Participles can be used in certain verb tenses. For instance, the perfect tenses use the past participle. However, a participle is not a tense. Common past participles (such as “walked” in “she has walked”) might appear like the past tense, but don’t be fooled. You can spot the difference with irregular verbs. For instance, “you fell” (past tense) vs. “you have fallen” (past participle used in the present perfect tense).

A participle can be used as an adjective or as part of certain verb tenses (continuous, perfect).

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Which cannot be a participle?

Which can be a participle?

A present participle ends in:

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