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Past Participles in English: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

Past participles are parts of verbs that represent the past. Let's look at examples of the three types of past participles: perfect tenses, the passive voice, and adjectives or descriptors. By the end of the lesson, you will recognize them all.

What is a Past Participle

The English language is often confusing and difficult because there are so many exceptions to the rules. This can cause anxiety and frustration. Having a full understanding of the terminology can go a long way toward helping to ease the difficulties caused by the varying rules. A past participle is quite simply a verb that indicates an action is completed in the past. It can be used as an adjective, or in a passive voice, or in the perfect tense. Don't worry, we will look at examples of each that will make it all clear.

Understanding

In order to fully understand past participles, we need to look at what happens to a verb to make it past tense. For a lot of verbs, called regular verbs, you simply add ''ed,'' ''d,'' or ''t'' to the end, such as:

  • Help (helped)
  • Weep (wept)
  • Work (worked)

These are fairly straight forward, and making them into past participles is equally easy, an auxiliary verb is added.

  • Helped becomes 'have helped'
  • Visited becomes 'have visited'
  • Worked becomes 'have worked'

It gets a little tricky when we look at irregular verbs. These verbs do not have simple rules, such as adding ''ed,'' ''d,'' or ''t'' to make them past. These will require you to look them up to fully understand, but here are a few examples:

  • Run (ran)
  • Sing (sang)
  • Go (went)

Things change again when we look at the past participle of these verbs.

  • Ran becomes 'have run'
  • Sing becomes 'have sung'
  • Went becomes 'have gone'

It can be confusing, but with a little practice, you will get the hang of it.

Uses of the Past Participle

There are three uses of the past participle that need to be discussed. The past participle can be used in a passive voice, as an adjective, or in the perfect tense. Let's break these down so you can pick them out in a sentence.

Past Participle in a Passive Voice

When you use the passive voice, it is easy to tell because the subject is not receiving the action. Past participles are always used with auxiliary verbs (be, do, have) when you write or speak in the passive voice. Let's look at some examples:

  • The boy was smacked on the head with the baseball. (boy is the subject)
  • The manager was given a raise by the boss because he was so efficient. (manager is the subject)

Perfect Tenses

The perfect tense is used when you describe something that has happened in the past but it has a relationship to another time. Here are some examples:

Present Perfect uses 'has/have' and looks like this:

  • The painters still haven't finished in the bedroom.
  • Wanda has not considered her move to Alabama very carefully.

Past Perfect uses 'had,' and this is what it looks like:

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