Participles – Present, Past and Perfect

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What is a participle?

A participle is an impersonal form of a verb that can be used as an adjective or to form compound tenses.

There are two types of participles in English; present participles (boring, doing, eating …) and past participles (bored, done, eaten …).

These can be combined to form perfect participles (having done, having said …), which are used in participial phrases.

Learn how to form English participles and when to use them, then practise in the interactive exercises.


Today, Ella is running her first ever marathon.

She’s been training for months and has done many practise races in preparation for the real thing.

Feeling nervous, Ella approaches the start line with the other excited runners.

The atmosphere is amazing: loud music is playing and it’s inspiring to see so many runners focusing on the same goal.

Ella’s predicted time is around 5 hours, but she thinks she can do better.

The starting pistol is fired and the race begins!

How to form the present participle

Form the present participle by adding -ing to the infinitive of the verb.

do → doing
talk → talking

Spelling rules

  • remove the final -e before adding -ing (note: -ee stays the same)
use → using
but: agree → agreeing
  • double the final consonant when it follows a short, stressed vowel (exceptions: -w, -x and -y)
sit → sitting
but: fix → fixing
  • an -ie at the end of the infinitive becomes -y
tie → tying
lie → lying
  • British English doubles the final -l of verbs like cancel, travel, etc.
travel → travelling

Present participle vs. gerund

When the -ing form is used as a noun, it is actually a gerund and not a present participle.

Ella likes running.
Smoking is bad for your health.

Learn more about which verbs take the gerund in English.

How to form the past participle

The past participle is also known as the third form of the verb (e.g. do–did–done).

For regular verbs, we add -ed to the infinitive. This means that for regular verbs, the past participle is identical to the simple past form.

want – wanted – wanted
walk – walked – walked

Irregular verbs have their own form, which must be learned by heart. Sometimes the past participle is the same as the simple past form, sometimes it is different.

speak – spoke – spoken
sell – sold – sold

Learn more about irregular verbs in English grammar.

When to use participles in English

English participles have two main uses:

1. Forming compound tenses

  • use the present participle (-ing form) in progressive tenses
Today, Ella is running her first ever marathon. (present progressive)
She was training last week. (past progressive)
auxiliary verb be + present participle
  • use the past participle (3rd form of the verb) in perfect tenses
She has done many practice races. (present perfect simple)
In five hours she will have finished the race. (future perfect simple)
auxiliary verb have + past participle
  • use the past participle of be (= been) and the present participle of the main verb in perfect progressive tenses
She has been training for months. (present perfect progressive)
been = past participle of be; training = present participle of train

As you can see from the examples above, despite what their names may suggest, the present and past participles are not just restricted to the present and past tenses!

2. Adjectives

The second use for the participles is as adjectives.

They can come before the noun they modify or after linking verbs like be.

The atmosphere is amazing.
modifies the noun atmosphere
Ella’s predicted time is around 5 hours.
modifies the noun time

Often, we have to choose between participle adjective pairs (e.g. bored vs. boring; confused vs. confusing …).

The difference is as follows:

  • use the past participle to describe a feeling or effect
Ella feels inspired when she sees the other runners.
= she experiences inspiration
  • use the present participle to describe the person/thing that causes said feeling or effect
The other runners are inspiring.
= the other athletes inspire Ella

Head over to our section on adjectives to learn more about adjectives ending in -ing and -ed.

Read on to look at each of the participles individually.

Additional uses

While the participles are mainly used in compound tenses and as adjectives, there are some additional uses:

The passive voice

The past participle is used with the verb be to form the passive.

The starting pistol is fired.
The race was won by the former world champion.

Learn more about the passive voice in English grammar.

The present participle as an adverb

In some cases, the present participle appears as an adverb. These modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs.

Ella ran smiling across the finish line.
the present participle modifies the verb run
The weather was boiling hot that day.
the present participle modifies the adjective hot

Participial phrases (clauses)

Participles are used to create participial phrases (also known as participial clauses or participle phrases). These are adjective phrases that begin with a present, past or perfect participle.

Participial phrases are used in in written language. They allow us to give more information about a noun without having to use a full clause.

Feeling nervous, Ella approaches the start line.
= Ella is feeling nervous as she approaches the start line.

The participial phrase must refer to the same noun as the main clause.

Exhausted like never before, Ella crossed the finish line with a big smile on her face.
= Ella was exhausted like never before as she crossed the finish line …

Participial phrases are often used to shorten relative clauses.

It’s inspiring to see so many runners focusing on the same goal.
= It’s inspiring to see so many runners who are focusing on the same goal.

Check out our page about participial phrases in English for more information and exercises.

The perfect participle

The perfect participle is formed with the present participle of have and the past participle of the main verb (e.g. having said, having done, having left …).

Unlike the standard present and past participles, the perfect participle is only used in participial phrases and is mostly limited to written English.

The perfect participle emphasises that an action was already completed when another action took place.

Ella had trained for months and she felt ready for the marathon.
Having trained for months, Ella felt ready for the marathon.