What is a Participle? Definition, Examples of English Participles

Participle definition: A participle is formed from a verb and modifies a noun, noun phrase, verb, or verb phrase. A participle most often ends in –ed or –ing.

What is a Participle?

What does participle mean? A participle is formed from a verb and modifies a noun, noun phrase, verb, or verb phrase. Most often, a participle functions as an adjective.

A participle most often ends in –ed or –ing (except for some irregular verbs).

Participle Examples:

  • Verb: to run
  • Participle: running
  • Sentence: He is a running machine.

What is participle exampleIn this example of a participle, the verb “to run” is used. “Running” becomes the participle as it is used as an adjective to describe “machine.” What kind of machine is he? A running machine.

  • Verb: to smile
  • Participle: smiling
  • Sentence: He is a smiling clown.

Similarly, in this example, the verb becomes the participle. What kind of clown is he? A smiling clown.

Different Types of Participles

Present Participles

What is a present participle? Present participles are formed from the infinitive of a verb. Adding “-ing” to the infinitive from will create the present participle.

  • Verb: to jump
  • Participle: jumping

When to use present participles: Present participles are used to form adjectives and to create verb tenses.

Some examples include:

  • Adjectives
    • jumping dog
    • flowering tree
  • Verb Tenses
    • I am thinking. (present perfect)
    • I was thinking. (past progressive)

Note: Some verbs with short vowel sounds will require an extra consonant, as in the “running” example above.

Past Participles

Example of participle verbsWhat is a past participle? Past participles are formed from the past tense of a verb. Past participles most often end in –ed (except for some irregular verbs).

  • Verb: to jump
  • Past tense: jumped
  • Past participle: jumped
  • Irregular verb: to break
  • Past tense: broke
  • Past participle: broken

When to use past participles: Past participles are used to form adjectives and to create verb tenses.

Some examples include:

  • Adjectives
    • spotted dog
    • painted sky
  • Verb Tenses
    • I had thought. (past perfect)
    • I have thought. (present perfect)

Perfect Participles

What is present participle examplesWhat is a perfect participle? Perfect participles are formed from the infinitive of the verb “to have” and adding “-ing.” Perfect participles will always start with “having” and be followed by a past participle.

  • Present participle: having
  • Past participle: learned
  • Perfect participle: having learned

Perfect participles always explain an action that has already taking place.

  • Having learned the news of my grandfather’s passing, I booked a flight to Amsterdam.

What are the Functions of Participles?

Participles as Multipart Verbs:

Past participles examplesPresent and past participles may be used to create verb forms. The verb forms include perfect and progressive tenses.

Example verb infinitive: to walk

  • I was walking. (past progressive)
  • I had walked. (past perfect)
  • I had been walking. (past perfect progressive)
  • I am walking. (present progressive)
  • I have walked. (present perfect)
  • I have been walking. (present perfect progressive)
  • I will be walking (future progressive)
  • I will have walked (future perfect)
  • I will have been walking (future perfect progressive)

Participles as Adjectives:

Present and past participles may be used as adjectives to modify nouns. Participles as adjectives will answer the question “What kind?” in relation to the noun.

  • textured surface
    • What kind of surface? Textured.
  • blackened chicken
    • What kind of chicken? Blackened.
  • rumbling thunder
    • What kind of thunder? Rumbling.
  • babbling brook
    • What kind of brook? Babbling.
  • smoked fish
    • The brothers Zach and Alex Frankel were reared on the Upper West Side of Manhattan but live in Brooklyn now and missed the local smoked fish emporiums of their childhood. –The New York Times
    • What kind of fish? Smoked.

Participle Phrases vs. Gerunds

What is the past participle verbsA participle that ends in “-ing” looks like a gerund. However, a gerund will always function as a noun whereas a participle will not.

  • Verb: to swim
  • Present participle: swimming
  • Gerund: swimming

Example of present participle in use:

  • The swimming pool is heated for the summer.
    • Here, “swimming” functions as an adjective to modify “pool.”

Example of gerund in use:

  • Swimming is my favorite sport.
    • Here, “swimming” functions as a noun and subject of the sentence.

Summary: What are Participles?

Define participle: The definition of participle is the form of a verb that can function independently as an adjective. In summary, a participle:

  • usually ends in –ed or –ing
  • modifies a noun, noun phrase, verb, or verb phrase
  • should not be confused with a gerund

Examples of Participles:

  • Baked beans.
  • Stuffed chicken.
  • Crying baby.