As a speaker of the English language, you make use of different parts of speech ever day. You might not think about the grammar that you are using, but it is there. But what happens if you would like to know more about grammar – or maybe you are planning to teach English to foreigners and have to know. Suddenly you may not feel so at home with your home language as what you thought – but no need to worry, there is no need to be a walking grammar textbook. This simple guide will give you a reminder of the deeper workings of the language that you use every day. Whether you need to know more about participles for yourself or have to teach them to someone else, this simple guide is all you need.

What is a participle?

A participle is a type of verb, but it does not just perform the same function as a verb – this is why it gets its own grammatical category. A participle is a verb that can also function as an adjective and an adverb. When used as verbs, participles are combined with auxiliary verbs to create tenses.

The two types of participles

There are two types of participles: past participles and present participles.

A participle is a type of verb, and to identify it (and to understand how it is formed) it's best to know the different forms that a verb can take. These forms are: The base form, the past simple form, the past participle and the present participle e.g.

glide (base form) – glided (past simple) – glided (past participle) – gliding (present participle)

run (base form) – ran (past simple) – run (past participle) – running (present participle)

Regular and irregular verbs

In the above examples, "glide" is a regular verb and "run" is an irregular verb. Regular verbs have past simple and past participle forms that end with "ed". Irregular verbs have past simple and past participle forms that do not end in "ed" (and both forms can differ) - there are no definite rules to how each irregular verb is formed, so all that someone can do to know these different forms is to practice the language and learn through experience.

The difference between past simple and the past participle

To test if an irregular verb is in its past simple or past participle form, add "have" or "having" before the verb. The past simple will not make sense if "have" or "having" is placed before it, but the past participle will e.g.

I have swum in the ocean many times before. (We cannot say "I have swam in the ocean many times before")

I swam in the ocean yesterday. (We cannot say "I swum in the ocean yesterday")

Having broken the window, I had to pay for it. (We cannot say "Having broke the window, I had to pay for it")

I broke the window yesterday. (We cannot say "I broken the window yesterday")

Please note: The "have" or "having" test is used with the verb on its own – "have" or "having" does not need to be present within the sentence itself for a verb to be a past participle, which is the case when the past participle is used as a verb form (e.g. The window was broken yesterday).

Using participles in sentences

The past participle is the form of a verb not ending in "ing" that can be used as an adjective or adverb. When used as a verb, it is combined with one or more auxiliary verbs.

E.g. Don't step on the broken glass; She looked disappointed; They fell defeated to the ground; I have run this race many times.

"Broken" describes the glass, "disappointed" describes how she felt, "defeated" is an adverb of manner that describes how they fell and "run" is combined with the auxiliary verb "have" to form a tense.

A present participle is the "ing" form of a verb (base form + "ing") used an adjective or an adverb. Used as a verb, it is combined with one or more auxiliary verbs.

E.g. The trip was very exciting; That beeping sound doesn't stop; They flew screeching out of the aviary; I have been waiting here for hours.

"Exciting" describes the trip, "beeping" describes the sound and "screeching" is an adverb of manner that describes how they flew (screeching at the same time). Present participles as adverbs are not common. "Waiting" has been combined with the auxiliary verbs "have" and "been" to create a verb form.

Keep it simple

If a verb passes the "have/having" test, it is a past participle.

If a verb is in its "ing" form and is not used as a subject or object (as this would make it a gerund), it is a present participle.

The verb is the most important part of the sentence, and knowing the difference between base forms, simple present forms, past participles and present participles will form the basis for understanding how different tenses are formed when speaking and writing the English language.