Past and Present Participles

There are two types of participles in English, and each type is used in various ways.

Present Participles

The first type of participle is the present participle. The present participle is often referred to as the ‘-ing’ form of the verb. Here are some examples of present participles in italics:

  • The sun was shining so I went for a walk.
  • The man speaking English is our teacher.
  • That movie was extremely exciting.

Past Participles

Past participles are used similarly to present participles. Here are some examples of past participles in italics:

  • He has flown to Chicago twice.
  • The broken boy returned home without a prize.
  • That man looks lost.

Participles Used as the Main Verb

Participles are used with auxiliary verbs in a variety of tenses. It is important to remember that the changes in the conjugation of the verb are made to the auxiliary verb. The participle form remains the same.

Present participles are used for continuous (or progressive) tenses. These include the present continuous, past continuous, and future continuous.

  • Present Continuous: They are watching TV at the moment.
  • Past Continuous: Mary was talking on the telephone when I came home.
  • Future Continuous: I’ll be playing golf tomorrow at three o’clock.
  • Present Perfect Continuous: He has been working in the garden for twenty minutes.
  • Past Perfect Continuous: They had been waiting for thirty minutes when he arrived.
  • Future Perfect Continuous: Jack will have been studying for four hours by six o’clock.
  • Past participles are used with simple perfect tenses (continuous perfect or progressive perfect tenses take the participle ‘been’ + the present participle – have been playing, will have been working, etc.).
  • Present Perfect: She’s already eaten lunch.
  • Past Perfect: They had left for California before she called.
  • Future Perfect: I will have bought the clothes by tomorrow evening.

Passive Voice and Participles

Past participles are also used in all passive voice sentences. To quickly review the passive voice structure:

  • Passive Subject + be (conjugated) + past participle
  • Present passive: Tom was taught by Frankie.
  • Past passive: My car was made in Germany.

Participles Used as Adjectives

Participles can also be utilized as adjectives to describe nouns. The disparity between the present participle and the past participle can make a difference in meaning:

  • The bored man went to sleep during the discussion.
  • The boring man put other people to sleep during the discussion.

In the initial sentence, the past participle ‘bored’ is utilized to mean that the man himself was bored; in the 2nd sentence, the present participle ‘boring’ is employed to mean that the man was boring to others.

The past participle is employed as a passive adjective. The passive adjective expresses how someone feels.

  • Any interested student should apply in the office.
  • The overly excited boys need to calm down!

The present participle is used as an active adjective. The active adjective describes the effect on people or things:

  • He’s an interesting professor. I’d like to take a class with him.
  • She’s a boring speaker.

Participles Used as Adverbs

The present participle is sometimes used as an adverb to describe the manner in which a verb is performed. Here are a few examples:

  • She taught pounding the grammar into their heads!
  • Angelo works considering all angles.

Notice how the present participle could be preceded with ‘by’ to give the same meaning:

  • She taught (by) pounding the grammar into their heads!
  • Angelo works (by) considering all angles.

Participles Used like Clauses

Finally, participles are also used in short phrases that function as clauses. In some cases, the phrase containing the participle drops the relative pronoun:

  • Who’s that boy playing the piano? – (Who is that boy who’s playing the piano?)
  • That’s the man remembered by his friends. – (That is the man who was remembered by his friends.)

These structures can also introduce sentences with either the present participle or the past participle:

  • Spending all his free time in the library, he continued to learn outside of class.
  • Left alone with nowhere to go, Mary decided to return home a few days early.

Present Participles and Gerunds

The present participle is often confused with the gerund which is also casually referred to as the ‘ing’ form of the verb. The difference between the gerund and the present participle can be confusing. The main difference is that a gerund is used as a noun:

  • Taking a vacation is important to your mental health.
  • We enjoy watching romantic comedies.