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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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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.”
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