What Is a Past Participle and How Is It Used?

2 min read

A sentence is composed of words, but each of those words has a specific job that contributes to the whole meaning. Basic grammar lessons teach us how to identify the nouns, verbs, and adjectives of a sentence, but sentence structure can be a little more complicated than that. The art of sentence diagramming has mostly fallen out of favor in schools, but learning how to break down and identify different parts of speech, especially verb forms, can make anyone a better communicator.

What Is a Past Participle?

Verbs convey action (to run, to sleep, to read), but they can also indicate who or what is performing the action, as well as a sense of time. For example, a verb can indicate past (I ran), present (I am running), or future (I will run).

The past tense is quite simple: “I am jumping on the bed” (present) turns into “I jumped on the bed,” to talk about an action that happened in the past. But there’s still an open end; I jumped on the bed in the past, but it might happen again today or tomorrow.

If you want to talk specifically about something that happened and was completed in the past, that needs the past participle. Typically, this is done by adding an auxiliary verb such as “has” or “have” in front of the past tense verb.

Rupal crosses the street. (Present tense)

Rupal crossed the street. (Past tense)

Rupal has crossed the street. (Past participle)

Using the past participle shows completeness, and conveys more time and duration than the simple past tense.

Irregular Verbs and the Past Participle

For most regular verbs, simply adding “-ed” to the end of the word creates the past tense (bake/baked, call/called, shop/shopped). Turning that into the past participle requires a simple auxiliary verb, such as “have” or “has” (I have baked, he has called, we have shopped).

But irregular verbs don’t follow this easy formula, and there’s no real rhyme or reason to the spelling. Each irregular verb has its own unique past tense and past participle, so it can be tricky to tell the difference between tenses. Here’s a list of a few other interesting irregular verbs:

bite / bit / have bitten

choose / chose / have chosen

drink / drank / have drunk

fly / flew / have flown

ring / rang / have rung

see / saw / have seen

throw / threw / have thrown

write / wrote / have written

If you need to look up the past participle of a particular irregular verb, it’s usually listed in the dictionary along with the past tense form.

When to Use a Past Participle

The difference between past tense and past participle is subtle, but there are several key moments when one should be used over the other.

The past participle is mainly used with perfect tenses (present perfect, past perfect, future perfect, or conditional perfect). We’re not getting into all of those verb forms right now, but they usually mean you’re talking about something that’s linked to a specific time.

Brian has found his wallet.

Willa had cleaned for days.

Tony will have completed his law degree by next year.

She would have won the race if she ran faster.

Finally, past participle verbs can also function as adjectives that describe nouns, such as in the sentence, “We discovered a hidden door.” The past participle form of “hide” describes the noun “door.”

Featured image credit: pixelfit/ iStock

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