What is a participle?
Participles are verb forms that function as adjectives, nouns or as part of a compound verb tenses. There are three kinds of participles in English grammar: present participle or -ing form, past participle and perfect participle. We can use participles to form participle clauses which shorten complex sentences.
Learn about participle forms in English grammar with Lingolia’s grammar lesson. In the interactive exercises, you can put your knowledge to the test.
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.
How to use the present participle
The present participle is the ing-form. We use this form:
- as a continuous form in tenses (e.g. past progressive)
- They were just standing there
- as an adjective to describe an effect (see making adjectives)
- I seemed to be interesting for them.
- as a gerund
- 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).
- 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)
- 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)
- 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.
|words||meaning with infinitive||meaning with present participle|
verbs of sensation + object:
feel, find, hear, listen to, notice, see, smell, watch
the complete action was observed
part of the action was observed
expresses the goal or purpose of an action
in connection with activities
How to conjugate the present participle
When conjugating the present participle, we must pay attention to a few irregularities:
|-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|
|In British English, an -l as final consonant after a vowel is always doubled||travel – travelling|
|-ie at the end of a word becomes -y||lie – lying|
How to use the past participle
The Past Participle is the third verb form in the tables of irregular verbs. We use this form:
- in the perfect tenses
- they had eaten so much grass
- in the passive forms
- They were left out on the meadow.
- as an adjective to describe a feeling (see making adjectives)
- They were only interested in grazing.
- when changing passive clauses into participle clauses
- The sheep were called by me. They slowly came over to me.
→ Called by me, the sheep slowly came.
How to conjugate the past participle
The forms for irregular verbs can be found in the third column of the verb tables. The past participle of regular verbs is conjugated by adding -ed, although there are a few exceptions to note:
|exceptions when adding ed||example|
|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|
Learn to pronounce the past participles of regular verbs correctly by learning the three different pronunciations of the -ed ending.
How to use the perfect participle
We use the perfect participle to form participle clauses, when …
- … the action has already been completed before the other action begins.
- 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.
- 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.
How to conjugate the perfect participle
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
- 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
- Having been left on the meadow by the farmer, the sheep ran around all day.