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What Is a Participle? | Definition, Types & Examples

Verbs updated on  January 9, 2024 4 min read
Participles are formed from verbs and can serve as adjectives and indicate tense. The primary types of participles are past and present.

  • Past participles (e.g., “ran,” “clapped,” “burnt”) are a component of perfect tenses, and they also appear in sentences written in the passive voice. Typically, past participles take the following endings: “-ed,” “-t,” “-en,” “-n,” or “-ne.”
  • Present participles indicate continuous tenses and always take an “-ing” ending.

Examples: Past and present participles
Rumored to be haunted, the house decayed slowly.
Avi hinted that she might not stay long.
I heard James practicing his violin.
Sharon gazed out the window at a stunning sunset.

Note
Although we use the terms “past” and “present” to label participles, these terms do not directly indicate the tense being used. Participles, whether past or present, can be used to form verbs in past, present, or future tenses. Past and present participles can also both be used as adjectives.

The QuillBot Grammar Checker can help ensure you use past and present participles correctly.

Past participles

For regular verbs, the past participle is typically formed by adding an “-ed” ending. For example, “open” becomes “opened.” In these cases, the past participle and past simple tense of the verb look the same.

Irregular verbs usually take one of several suffixes: “t,” “-en,” “-n,” or “-ne.” For example, “choose” becomes “chosen.” In some cases, an irregular past participle is different from the past simple tense (e.g., “given” vs. “gave”).

Past participles are often found in passive voice constructions (i.e., in sentences whose subject receives the verb’s action). A past participle can also function as an adjective, a component of a participial phrase (i.e., a participle and its modifiers), or an element of one of the perfect verb tenses.

Examples: Past participles
The story was told by our grandmother.
Their savings were depleted after a vacation in the West Indies.
Reminded of her appointment, the principal ran to the car.
Derek had slept before the meeting.

Note
Perfect verb tenses typically include a form of the auxiliary verb “have” before the past participle (e.g., “I had been,” “we have been”). The future perfect tense is the exception, using “will have” before the past participle (e.g., “I will have been a citizen for five years”).

Present participles

To form a present participle, add the suffix “-ing” to a verb (e.g., the present participle of “fish” is “fishing”).

There are three ways to use a present participle: as an adjective, as an element of a participial phrase, and as part of a continuous verb tense.

Examples: Present participles
Russell met a striking woman at the party.
Purring contentedly in his arms, the stray kitten fell asleep.
Mark is finishing his math homework.

Note
To form a continuous verb tense, conjugate the verb “be” and add a present participle (e.g., “he was yawning,” “they are traveling”).

Perfect Participles

Perfect participles express an event that took place before the action of the sentence’s main clause. A perfect participle must begin with “having” (the present participle of “have”) and include the past participle of the main verb (e.g., “having bought”).

Examples: Perfect participles
Having visited Italy before, Keith considered himself a gelato connoisseur.
Having arrived early, Pam had time to review her notes before the test.

Gerunds vs participles

Gerunds and present participles look exactly the same (i.e., they both have “-ing” endings), but they serve different grammatical roles. Gerunds function as nouns, while present participles are used as adjectives or to form verb tenses.

Examples: Gerunds in a sentence
Dancing in the park is romantic.
Maris loves playing tennis.

Participial phrases

Participial phrases are phrases that contain a participle and function as an adjective. They should be set off by commas if they occur at the beginning of a sentence or if they supply nonessential information in the middle of a sentence.

Examples: Participial phrases
We found the chickens foraging in the neighbor’s yard.
Sitting by the pond, the hiker was approached by a deer.
The train approaching the station is the one you should take.
Sam, lost in thought, stared at his textbook.

Dangling participles

A dangling participle is an error that occurs when a participial phrase unintentionally modifies the wrong noun or pronoun in a sentence, often due to improper placement.

There are two ways to resolve the error:

  • State the subject right after the participle phrase
  • Incorporate the subject into the participle phrase

Examples: Dangling participles
Walking down the street, a car honked loudly.
Walking down the street, I heard a car honk loudly.

Relieved to be home, the armchair looked inviting.
I was relieved to be home, and the armchair looked inviting.

The first example says that the car was walking down the street. The second says that the armchair was relieved to be home. Placing the subject in or near the participle phrase clarifies the sentence’s intended meaning in both cases.

Participle quiz

Test your knowledge of participles using the quiz below. Select the correct answer for each question.
Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


US vs UK

Parts of speech

Rhetoric

Gray vs grey

Action verbs

Metaphor

Judgment or judgement

Stative verbs

Simile

Favour or favor

Transitive verbs

Onomatopoeia

Fulfil or fulfill

Verbs

Assonance

Labor or labour

Nouns

Palindrome


Frequently asked questions about participles

What is the difference between a participle and a gerund?

Gerunds and present participles both take the form of “-ing” verbs, but they are used as different parts of speech:

  • Gerunds are nouns (e.g., “He enjoys debating”).
  • Present participles can be used as adjectives (e.g., “an unwavering spirit”) and in verb tenses (e.g., “We will be announcing the winner soon”).

What is the past participle of run?

“Run” is the past participle form of the verb “run.” While regular verbs take an “-ed” ending in the past participle form, “run” is irregular and does not take a suffix.

In the past simple tense, “run” becomes “ran.”

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Magedah Shabo

Magedah is an author, editor, and educator who has empowered thousands of students to become better writers.

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