Present and Past Participles | Grammar Usage and Examples

Learn how to form Present and Past Participles in English.

What is a Participle?

A participle is a verbal that is used as an adjective and most often ends in -ing or -ed. They function as adjectives, thus participles modify nouns or pronouns.

Types of Participles | Present and Past Participles

There are two participles: The present participle and the past participle. They can both be used as adjectives.

Present Participles | Present and Past Participles

Present participle, always ending in -ing, is created from the form of a verb used with the verb to be (am, is, are, was, were, been) as an auxiliary verb (progressive tense).

The Present participle is used:

  • As a part of the continuous form of a verb

They are playing football at the moment.

He is reading a book.

  • As an adjective

A crying baby

The smiling girl is my sister.

Mary is interested in reading books.

  • After verbs of perception

I saw them crossing the street.

I could hear them playing in the garden.

  • With the verbs: Spend & Waste: verb + time/money expression + present participle

Don’t waste time playing computer games!

I’ve spent the whole weekend revising for my exam.

  • With the verbs Catch & Find: verb + object + present participle

(With catch, the participle always refers to an action which causes annoyance or anger. This is not the case with find, which is unemotional.)

Don’t let him catch you reading his letters.

I found him sitting on a park bench reading a book.

  • For two actions at the same time

He left the room laughing.

Present Participles

NOTE: You may be thinking that present participles look just like gerunds because they are verbs ending in -ing, but the big difference is that gerunds are used like nouns, while present participles are used as adjectives to modify nouns or pronouns.

Past Participles | Present and Past Participles

The past participles of all regular verbs end in -ed. Irregular verbs, however, have various past participle endings – for instance, thrown, ridden, built, and gone.

The Past Participle is used:

  • As an adjective

A broken vase

Spoken words cannot be revoked.

  • With the auxiliary verb “have” to form the perfect aspect

Harry has worked in this company for 5 years.

When I came, he had left.

  • With the verb “be” to form the passive

This house was built in 1815.

The book was given to me.

  • To make one of the past forms for the modal verbs (modal auxiliaries). These forms use a modal + have + the past participle.

The police could have charged them with threatening behaviour.

I should have finished by the middle of the week.

  • Used to replace a “subject+passive verb” construction

She entered, accompanied by her daughters.

  • Used after Want, Make, Have and Like+direct object

I want this text translated by noon.

He made his presence felt.

Past Participle

What is the Difference: The Present Participle vs. The Past Participle

  • The present participle has an active meaning:

He found the house burning.

The past participle has a passive meaning:

He found the house burned.

The past participle is active in such examples:

A retired teacher

The fallen angels

An escaped prisoner.

  • The present participle is used to replace constructions of the type “subject+active verb”:

He opens the door and looks inside → Opening the door, he looks inside.

The past participle is used to replace constructions of the type “subject+passive verb”:

She entered and she was accompanied by her daughters → She entered, accompanied by her daughters.

  • In nominative absolute constructions:

The present participle is used if the absolute phrase is active:

The weather being fine, nobody wanted to stay at home.

The past participle is used if the absolute construction is passive:

All things considered,/This done, I think we should start immediately.

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