What Is a Participle? | Definition, Types & Examples

A participle is a word derived from a verb that can be used as an adjective or to form certain verb tenses. There are two main types of participles:

  • Past participles (typically ending in “-ed,” “-en,” “-n,” “-ne,” or “-t”) are used for perfect tenses and passive voice constructions.
  • Present participles (always ending in “-ing”) are used for continuous tenses.
Examples: Past participles and present participles in a sentence
Surprised by the sound of sirens, I looked out the window.

Andy cleaned up the broken glass.

I saw Kevin running down the street.

Everyone stared at the laughing man.

Note
The words “past” and “present” do not indicate the specific tenses in which participles are used. Both past participles and present participles can be used in the past, present, and future tense. And both are commonly used as adjectives.

Past participle

The past participles of regular verbs are usually formed by adding the suffix “-ed” (e.g., “walk” becomes “walked”). This is identical to the past simple form of these verbs.

The past participles of irregular verbs don’t follow this pattern. Instead, they often end in “-en,” “-n,” “-ne,” or “-t” (e.g., “kneel” becomes “knelt”). The past participle of an irregular verb is sometimes not the same as the past simple (e.g. “sung” vs. “sang”).

Past participles can be used as adjectives, in participial phrases, and to form perfect verb tenses. They can also be used to form passive sentences (i.e., sentences in which the subject is acted upon).

Examples: Uses of past participles
Cassie was exhausted after her workout.

Annoyed by the rude cashier, Dave complained to the manager.

Val has taken my advice.

A speech was given by Tanya.

Note
The perfect verb tenses are formed using a past participle and a conjugated form of the auxiliary verb “have” (e.g., “I had seen,” “she has seen”).

Present participle

Present participles are typically formed by adding “ing” to the end of a verb (e.g., “jump” becomes “jumping”).

Present participles can be used as adjectives, as part of participial phrases, and to form continuous verb tenses.

Examples: Uses of present participles
Hannah didn’t enjoy the boring film.

Addressing the students, the principal spoke about the value of extracurricular activities.

Deirdre is reading a book about botany.

Note
The continuous verb tenses are formed using a present participle along with a conjugated form of the verb “be” (e.g., “I was eating,” “she is smiling”).

Perfect participle

Perfect participles are used to describe something that occurred before the action described in the main clause. They’re formed by combining the present participle of the verb “have” (i.e., “having”) with a past participle.

Examples: Perfect participles
Having read the instructions, Malik could fix the coffee machine.

Having enjoyed the main course, Fia ordered dessert.

Gerund vs. participle

Present participles and gerunds are identical in appearance (they both use the “-ing” form of a verb), but they have different grammatical functions. While present participles are used in verb tenses and as adjectives, gerunds function only as nouns.

Examples: Gerunds in a sentence
Cycling in a city can be dangerous.

Lisa enjoys traveling.

Participial phrase

A participial phrase is a phrase headed by a participle that functions as an adjective. If a participial phrase comes at the beginning of a sentence, it should be followed by a comma. If it comes in the middle of a sentence, it should be set off by commas unless it provides essential information.

Examples: Participial phrases in a sentence
Linda recognized the man walking a dog.

Driving to work, Neve listened to an audiobook.

The man taking notes is my aide.

Inga, ignoring the doorbell, continued to watch TV.

Dangling participle

A dangling participle is a grammatical error caused by a participle or participial phrase that modifies the wrong subject. This occurs when the wrong noun or pronoun is placed next to a participial phrase.

To fix a dangling participle, you can either:

  • Place the correct subject immediately after the participial phrase
  • Rewrite the participial phrase to include the subject
Examples: Dangling participle in a sentence
  • Looking out the window, the mountain was beautiful.
  • Looking out the window, I saw the beautiful mountain.
  • Walking on the beach, the tide came in.
  • As Sarah was walking on the beach, the tide came in.

In the first example, the mistake wrongly suggests that the mountain was looking out the window. In the second, it suggests that the tide was walking on the beach. Rephrasing makes the intended meaning clearer in both cases.

Other interesting language articles

If you want to know more about nouns, pronouns, verbs, and other parts of speech, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations and examples.

 

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Frequently asked questions

What is a participial phrase?

A participial phrase is a phrase headed by a participle that functions as an adjective to modify a noun or pronoun (e.g., “Lying on the sofa, Jeff fell asleep”).

What is the difference between a participle and a gerund?

Present participles and gerunds look identical, but they have different grammatical functions:

  • Present participles are used in various verb tenses (e.g., “I have been eating”) and as adjectives (e.g., “a laughing child”).
  • Gerunds function as nouns (e.g., “I enjoy jogging”).
What is the past participle of run?

The past participle of “run” is “run.” As an irregular verb, “run” doesn’t form its past participle by adding the suffix “-ed.” The past simple form of “run” is “ran.”

Sources in this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Ryan, E. (2023, February 06). What Is a Participle? | Definition, Types & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/verbs/participle/

Sources

Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford University Press.

Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Garner, B. A. (2016). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.