Present, Past, and Sometimes Perfect Participles

Participles are words derived from verbs that can function as adjectives or as parts of verb phrases to create verb tenses. The two main types of participles are the present participle and the past participle. The perfect participle depends on the past participle for its forms. Participial phrases function as adjectives that modify the subjects or other nouns in sentences.

The 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 (or in progress). 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 in the process of sitting.

Present participles that function as nouns in sentences are known as gerunds. For instance, in the sentence “Traveling is one of his favorite activities,” traveling (the verb in the present participle) functions as a noun.

The 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.

Perfect Participles

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.

Participial Phrases

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.

Participles are words formed from verbs. Present participles function as adjectives and help form progressive verb tenses. Past participles function as adjectives and combine with the verb to be to create passive verb forms. Participial phrases modify nouns in sentences.