Participles

Introduction

In English, there are three kinds of participles: present participle, past participle and perfect participle. The first two forms are mostly used in tenses and as adjectives. However, participles can also often be used in English to make sentences shorter.

Example

I often go walking in the countryside.

Yesterday, I watched some sheep grazing on the meadow. At first they were only interested in grazing, but after a while they were just standing there wagging their tails. Having eaten so much grass, they were full up. I saw them pooing on the grass!

Called by me, three sheep slowly came over. Having run around on the meadow all day, they were tired, but I seemed to be interesting for them.

Present Participle

Usage

The present participle is the ing-form. We use this form:

  • as a continuous form in tenses (e.g. past progressive)
    Example:
    They were just standing there
  • as an adjective
    Example:
    I seemed to be interesting for them.
  • as a gerund (see Infinitive/Gerund)
    Example:
    They were only interested in grazing.
  • after verbs of sensation (feel, find, hear, listen to, notice, see, smell, watch) + object, in order to emphasise the progress of an action or a value judgement such as admiration or disapproval (see also table).
    Example:
    I watched them grazing.

    illustrates the progress of an action (they were grazing the whole time)

    I saw them pooing on the grass!

    depending on accentuation, can express disgust or disapproval

  • after go/come, in order to express an activity (see also table)
    go dancing/shopping/swimming/walking/…
    Example:
    I often go walking in the countryside.
  • in order to shorten an active clause that is attached to another clause that shares the same subject (see Participle Clauses)
    Example:
    The sheep were just standing there. They were wagging their tails.
    → The sheep were just standing there wagging their tails.

Infinitive or Present Participle

Some verbs can be used with either the infinitive or the present participle.

wordsmeaning with infinitivemeaning with present participle

verbs of sensation + object:

feel, find, hear, listen to, notice, see, smell, watch

the complete action was observed

Example:
I saw one sheep poo on the grass.

I want to emphasise that I saw the entire action take place.

part of the action was observed

Example:
I saw one sheep pooing on the grass.

I want to express that I caught it in the act of pooing on the grass.

go
come

expresses the goal or purpose of an action

Example:
The sheep have come to see if I have food for them.

in connection with activities

Example:
Let’s go walking to the meadow.

Construction

When constructing the present participle, we must pay attention to a few irregularities:

irregularityexample
e at the end is removed (but: ee remains unchanged) come – coming (but: agree – agreeing)
final consonant after a short stressed vowel is doubled sit – sitting
l as final consonant after a vowel is (in British English) always doubled travel – travelling
ie at the end of a word becomes y lie – lying

Past Participle

Usage

The Past Participle is the third verb form in the tables of irregular verbs. We use this form:

  • in the perfect tenses
    Example:
    they had eaten so much grass
  • in the passive forms
    Example:
    They were left out on the meadow.
  • as an adjective
    Example:
    They were only interested in grazing.
  • when changing passive clauses into participle clauses (see Participle Clauses)
    Example:
    The sheep were called by me. They slowly came over to me.
    Called by me, the sheep slowly came.

Construction

The forms for irregular verbs can be found in the third column of the verb tables. Regular verbs construct the past participle by adding ed, although there are a few exceptions to note:

exceptions when adding edexample
if it already ends in e, just add a d love – loved
the final consonant after a short stressed vowel
and the final consonant l after a vowel is doubled
admit – admitted
travel – travelled
the final letter y after a consonant becomes i hurry – hurried

Perfect Participle

Usage

We use the perfect participle to make clauses into participle clauses, if …

  • … the action has already been completed before the other action begins.
    Example:
    They were full up because they had eaten so much grass.
    Having eaten so much grass, they were full up.
  • … the action takes place over a longer period of time until another action.
    Example:
    They had been running around on the meadow all day long so that they were tired.
    Having run around on the meadow all day long, they were tired.

Construction

The perfect participle can be used in both the active and the passive.

In the active, we form the perfect participle with having + past participle

Example:
Having run around on the meadow all day, the sheep were tired.

In the passive, we form the perfect participle with having been + past participle

Example:
Having been left on the meadow by the farmer, the sheep ran around all day.

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