What are past participles?

What are past participles?

Past participles are parts of verbs used to form many verb tenses. We use them to form the past perfect tense, present perfect tense, and future perfect tense, but what are they? Here are some examples.

I have seen six deer!

The students have graduated from high school.

What are they?

Every verb has what are called four principal parts. This means that we can take any verb and break it into these parts. Past participles are simply one of those principal parts of a verb.

Here's a chart showing you some examples of verbs broken into their principal parts.

Present Present Participle Past past participle
come (is) coming came (have) come
fall (is) falling fell (have) fallen
go (is) going went (have) gone
graduate (is) graduating graduated (have) graduated
know (is) knowing knew (have) known
run (is) running ran (have) run
write (is) writing wrote (have) written

Regular Verbs

Here's some good news for you: Regular verbs follow a pattern! 

That's why they are called regular. If you have a regular verb, simply add -d or -ed to the present tense form of the verb.

Present Tense + d or ed arrow past participle
learn + ed arrow learned
spike + d arrow spiked
play + ed arrow played

Irregular Verbs

Now, here's some bad news for you: Irregular verbs don't follow a pattern. This can make it hard to know the past participles of irregular verbs. But, know that you can always use a dictionary if you're unsure. You'll see some examples in this chart.

Present Tense Change to ? arrow past participle
bring brought arrow brought
build built arrow built
win won arrow won

Don't Get Confused

When people talk about participles, they may be referring to something a little different from what we've covered on this page. They might be talking about something called a verbal. Verbals are verb forms that look like verbs but don't act like verbs.

Participles as verbals are a verb form that function like an adjective instead of a verb.

The running deer were beautiful! 

Running is a participle verbal. It looks like a verb, but it acts like an adjective modifying the noun deer.

The burned toast tasted awful.

In this sentence, burned is a participle verbal. It looks like a verb, but it acts like an adjective modifying the noun toast.

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