What Is a Participle?

I’m going to make this quick and simple. I’ll say outright that there is more to know about participles and how to use them properly than I will cover in this blog. So consider this a “CliffsNotes” version of the full explanation. It will give you the gist, and get you off and running without weighing you down with a lot of information that you might not necessarily need.

What is a participle?

A participle has two forms: past and present. The past participle and present participle of a verb are two of the five basic forms of every verb. Each verb has:

  1. an infinitive (to run),
  2. a simple present (run),
  3. a simple past (ran),
  4. a past participle (ran – yes, it is the same),
  5. and a present participle form (running).

The present participle always – yes, I mean always – ends in -ing.

The past participle typically ends in -ed, -d, or -t. However, as you can see above there are many irregular verbs – like run – whose past participle is a different spelling entirely. (If you ever have a question as to what the past participle spelling is for a verb, simply look it up in the dictionary.)

What is a participle using regular and irregular verbs?

Here are a couple of examples using regular verbs:

    Verb – cook
    Infinitive – to cook
    Simple present – cook
    Simple past – cooked
    Past Participle – cooked
    Present Participle – cooking

    Verb – wash
    Infinitive – to wash
    Simple present – wash
    Simple past – washed
    Past Participle – washed
    Present Participle – washing

Here are some irregular verb examples:

    Verb – rise
    Infinitive – to rise
    Simple present – rise
    Simple past – rose
    Past Participle – risen
    Present Participle – rising

    Verb – break
    Infinitive – to break
    Simple present – break
    Simple past – broke
    Past Participle – broken
    Present Participle – breaking

What is the difference between verbs and participles?

The key thing to know about participles and participle phrases is that they are used within a sentence – not as a verb, but as an adjective. (They can also function as nouns, or help to form perfect and progressive verb tenses – but we will not address those in this article as we are keeping it simple.)

I think the easiest way to tell the difference between a verb and a past or present participle is the way the word is used in the sentence. If it is used as an adjective, it is a participle. If it is used as the verb of the subject of the sentence, then it is a simple verb.

Example 1:

    The girls were hiking in the woods.
    Hiking is a simple verb in this sentence.

    The hiking girls were about to be ambushed by Bigfoot.
    Hiking here describes the girls. Therefore, it is the present participle of “to hike.”

Example 2:

    The people were clapping at the end of the show.
    Clapping is the verb.

    The clapping people smiled as the curtain closed.
    Which people? The clapping people. So in this sentence, the present participle is used.

There you have it! If you were wondering, “What is a participle?” hopefully now you have a decent understanding of what it is! If you’d like to continue the fun – be sure to see our Professional Writing lessons, and keep an eye out for my upcoming article on dangling participles.

P.S. Become a better writer. Find out more here.

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