What Are Participles And How Do You Use Them?

Participles. They’re verbs, they’re adjectives, they’re perfect and progressive! Is there anything they can’t do?

If you’re wondering what a participle does, you’re not alone. These mighty verbs take many forms and can be tricky to master. Let’s explore the different types.

What is a participle?

To start, participles are words derived from verbs that can function as adjectives or as parts of verb phrases to create verb tenses.

Put simply, that means a participle will look like a verb (running) but may have a different role in the sentence: the running water. That participle is describing the water and performing the function of an adjective.

The two main types of participles are the present participle and the past participle.

Three types of participles

1. Past participle

For regular verbs, adding -ed to the base form creates the past participle. For example, the past participle of cook is cooked.

Past participles formed from irregular verbs may have endings like -en, -t, -d, and -n. Examples include swollen, burnt, hoped, and broken. Some past participles remain the same as the base forms of irregular verbs, like set and cut.

Past participles can also function as adjectives that modify nouns. For example:


  • In the sentence, “She placed the cut flowers in the vase,” the past participle cut modifies the noun flowers.

Past participles can also combine with the verb to be to create the passive forms of verbs. For example:


  • In the sentence, “He was taken to the store by his daughter,” the verb form was taken includes the past participle taken and was, which is the past tense of the verb to be.

2. Present participle

Adding -ing to the base form of a verb creates the present participle. For example, eat is the base form of the verb to eat. The present participle of eat is eating. Present participles always end in -ing.

Other examples of present participles include swimming, laughing, and playing.

The present participle can function as an adjective and modify nouns in sentences. For example:


  • In the sentence, “The winning athlete gets a trophy,” the present participle winning describes the noun athlete.

Present participles appear in progressive (or continuous) verb tenses, which show when a verb or action was/is in the process of happening. For example:


  • A sentence in the present progressive tense is: “She is sitting now.”
  • A sentence in past progressive tense is: “She was sitting there 10 minutes ago.”
  • A sentence in future progressive tense is: “She will be sitting at her desk in an hour.”

All three of these sentences indicate when she was/is/will be in the process of sitting.

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3. Perfect participle

And there’s more!

Combining the word having with the past participle of a word creates the perfect participle. Perfect participles demonstrate that an action was completed in the past. Examples of perfect participles include having watched, having arrived, and having slept.

This isn’t so much a third participle as it is a structure that combines a present participle (having) and a past participle. For example:


  • In the sentence, “Having finished the report, she put away all her books and took a much-needed nap,” the words having finished is the perfect participle.
  • By combining having and relied you can construct the following sentence: “The young man, having relied on his grandfather’s advice all his life, felt utterly lost after his death.”

What is a participial phrase?

Participial phrases are participles combined with other words that act as adjectives within sentences. Usually, participial phrases modify the subjects of sentences, but sometimes they modify other nouns. For example:


  • In the sentence, “Wearing his new suit, Bill went to work,” the participial phrase wearing his new suit acts like an adjective to describe the subject of the sentence, Bill.

Within a sentence, participial phrases should be close to the nouns that they modify to avoid confusion. For example:


  • In the sentence, “Leaving the store, he hailed a taxi,” it’s clear that the phrase leaving the store modifies the subject he.

Participial phrases that don’t clearly have a noun to modify are known as dangling modifiers. For instance:


  • In the sentence, “Leaving the store, the traffic was heavy,” it seems as if the traffic is leaving the store, but this is impossible.

Can we go over this one more time?

Participles are words formed from verbs:


  • Present participles always end in -ing and function as adjectives. They help form progressive verb tenses.
  • Past participles end in -ed, or other past tense irregular verb endings, and function as adjectives. They also combine with the verb to be to create passive verb forms.
  • Perfect participles combine having with a past participle.
  • Participial phrases modify the subjects of sentences.

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Participles can be used as adjectives, but what other kinds of adjectives are there? Find out here!