What Is a Past Participle? | Examples & Uses

A past participle is a form of a verb that can be used in three ways: as an adjective, to form the passive voice, or to form perfect verb tenses. All verbs have both present participle and past participle forms.

For regular verbs, the past participle is formed by adding “-ed” to the end of the verb (e.g., “spell” becomes “spelled”).

For irregular verbs, the past participle can be formed in various ways, often using the endings “-en,” “-n,” “-ne,” and “-t” (e.g., “write” becomes “written,” and “lose” becomes “lost”).

Past participle examples
The neglected garden is overgrown.

The test had begun when Sarah arrived.

My train was delayed by an electrical problem.

How to form past participles

For regular verbs, the past participle is typically formed by adding “-ed” (or just “-d” if the word ends in an “e”) to the end of the word. Thus, the past participle of a regular verb is the same as the simple past form (e.g., “rained” and “rained”).

Examples: Past participles of regular verbs
I will have passed my certification exam by March.

Exhausted, Pablo decided to take a nap.

I was allowed to enter the museum one hour early.

Forming the past participles of irregular verbs is more complex. There is no specific pattern to the ending that is added to the verb. Some common endings include “-en,” “-n,” “-ne,” and “-t.” The past simple form and past participle of an irregular verb may not be the same (e.g., “ate” and “eaten”).

Examples: Past participles of irregular verbs
She has gone to Paris three times.

Mia threw away the torn pages.

In our school, geometry is taught before algebra.

Note
There are some differences in how past participles are formed in British English vs. American English.

  • In British English, for two-syllable verbs that end in “l,” the past participle is formed by doubling the “l” and adding “-ed” (e.g., “cancel” becomes “cancelled”).
  • In American English, however, the “l” is only doubled when the final syllable receives the primary stress (e.g., “extol” becomes “extolled,” but “cancel” becomes “canceled”).

Additionally, in British English, the past tense of some verbs is formed by adding “-t” rather than “-ed” (e.g., “learn” becomes “learnt”). For those verbs in British English, the past participle is formed in the same way.

How to use a past participle as an adjective

Past participles (or participial phrases) can be used as adjectives to describe a noun or pronoun.

Examples: Past participles as adjectives
Javon sprinkled shredded cheese over the pizza.

The delighted child ate the ice cream cone.

The elevator is broken.

Participial phrases

A participial phrase is a phrase that begins with a participle and is used to modify a noun or pronoun in a sentence.

When a participial phrase begins a sentence, the phrase should be followed by a comma. If a participial phrase is used in the middle of a sentence, it should be set off with commas unless it is essential to the sentence.

Examples: Past participial phrases as adjectives
Frustrated by the long hold time, Sydney hung up the phone.

My brother, excited about our vacation, woke up at 5 a.m.

The money stolen from the bank has not been returned.

Past participles in perfect verb tenses

There are three perfect verb tenses:

  • Past perfect (describes an action or event that occurred before another past action or event)
  • Present perfect (describes an action or event that began in the past and continues into the present)
  • Future perfect (describes an action or event that will be completed by a particular time in the future)

These perfect verb tenses are formed by combining a past participle with a conjugated form of “have,” which is an auxiliary verb.

Examples: Past participles in perfect tenses
I had bought Jack a ticket before I found out he was sick.

She has studied botany for fifteen years.

The organization will have earned more than one million dollars by the end of the year.

Note
The past participle of the verb “be” (i.e., “been”), along with a conjugated form of the verb “have” and the present participle of the main verb, is used to form the perfect continuous tenses (e.g., “I have been running,” “he had been eating”).

Past participles and passive constructions

The passive voice is used to indicate that a subject is being acted on rather than performing an action. Typically, passive sentences are formed with a conjugated form of the verb “be” and a past participle.

Examples: Past participles and passive constructions
Our photo was taken by a renowned photographer.

All of the food has been provided by donors.

The test will be graded by a committee.

Frequently asked questions about the past participle

What is the past participle of run?

The past participle of the verb “run” is “run.” Because it is an irregular verb, the past participle of “run” is not formed by adding “-ed.” The simple past tense form of “run” is “ran.”

What is the past participle of swim?

The past participle of the verb “swim” is “swum.” “Swim” is an irregular verb, so its past participle is not formed by adding “-ed.” The simple past tense form of “swim” is “swam.”

What is the past participle of ride?

The past participle of the verb “ride” is “ridden.” Because “ride” is an irregular verb, its past participle is not formed by adding “-ed.” The simple past tense form of “ride” is “rode.”

What is the past participle of set?

The past participle of the verb “set” is “set.” “Set” is an irregular verb, so its past participle is not formed by adding “-ed.” The simple past tense form of “set” is also “set.”

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Kayla Anderson Hewitt, MA

Kayla has a master's degree in teaching English as a second language. She has taught university-level ESL and first-year composition courses. She also has 15 years of experience as an editor.