What Are Participles?

participle is a word which is partly a verb and partly an adjective. English has two participles: the present participle and the past participle.

Forms like running, singing, walking and working are called present participles. Forms like worked, broken, gone, written and walked are called past participles.


To form verb forms

Participles are used with the auxiliary verbs be and have to make progressive, perfect and passive verb forms.

  • She was crying. (present progressive)
  • I have written a novel. (present perfect)
  • We have been waiting for ages. (present perfect progressive)
  • They were having dinner when we called. (past progressive)
  • He had left before I called. (past perfect)
  • They were forced to give up their claim. (passive)
  • It was broken in the storm. (passive)

As adjectives

Participles can be used as adjectives before nouns, or after be and other copular verbs.

  • rolling stone gathers no moss.
  • Barking dogs seldom bite.
  • burnt child dreads fire.
  • He looked tired.
  • The village appeared deserted.
  • The children were excited.

Not all participles can be used as adjectives before nouns – for example, we can say a lost dog, but not a found dog. It is not possible to give clear rules.

As adverbs

Sometimes participles are used like adverbs.

  • She came running into the room.
  • He ran screaming out of the room.


Participles can combine with other words into clause-like structures.

  • Driven by rain, they took shelter under a tree.
  • Stricken with grief, she threw herself on the body.
  • The thief admitted having stolen the money.
  • Deceived by his friends, he lost all hope.

When present participles are used like adjectives or adverbs, they have similar meanings to active verbs.

rolling stone = a stone that rolls
falling leaves= leaves that fall
barking dogs = dogs that bark
meat-eating animal = an animal that eats meat

When past participles are used like adjectives or adverbs, they have passive meanings.

burnt child = a child who has been burnt.
broken mirror = a mirror that has been broken.


A few intransitive verbs have past participles that can be used like adjectives with active meanings.

Examples are:

fallen leaf = a leaf that has fallen
developed countries = countries that have developed
an escaped prisoner = a prisoner who has escaped
retired general = a general who has retired

Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I am Manjusha. This is my blog where I give English grammar lessons and worksheets.

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