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A participle is a form of a verb that is used in a sentence to modify a noun, noun phrase, verb, or verb phrase, and then plays a role similar to an adjective or adverb.[1] It is one of the types of nonfinite verb forms. Its name comes from the Latin participium,[2] a calque of Greek metochḗ "partaking" or "sharing";[3] it is so named because the Ancient Greek and Latin participles "share" some of the categories of the adjective or noun (gender, number, case) and some of those of the verb (tense and voice).

Participles may correspond to the active voice (active participles), where the modified noun represents the agent of the action denoted by the verb—or to the passive voice (passive participles), where the modified noun represents the patient (undergoer) of that action. Participles in particular languages are also often associated with certain verbal aspects or tenses. The two types of participle in English are traditionally called the present participle (forms such as writing, singing and raising; these same forms also serve as gerunds and verbal nouns) and the past participle (forms such as written, sung and raised; regular participles such as the last, as well as some irregular ones, have the same form as the finite past tense).

In some languages, participles can be used in the periphrastic formation of compound verb tenses, aspects, or voices. For example, one of the uses of the English present participle is to express continuous aspect (as in John is working), while the past participle can be used in expressions of perfect aspect and passive voice (as in Anne has written and Bill was killed).

A verb phrase based on a participle and having the function of a participle is called a participle phrase or participial phrase (participial is the adjective derived from participle). For example, looking hard at the sign and beaten by his father are participial phrases based respectively on an English present participle and past participle. Participial phrases generally do not require an expressed grammatical subject; therefore such a verb phrase also constitutes a complete clause (one of the types of nonfinite clause). As such, it may be called a participle clause or participial clause. (Occasionally a participial clause does include a subject, as in the English nominative absolute construction The king having died, ... .)

Types of participle

Participles are often identified with a particular tense, as with the English present participle and past participle (see under English below). However, this is often a matter of convention; present participles are not necessarily associated with the expression of present time, or past participles necessarily with past time.

Participles may also be identified with a particular voice: active or passive. Some languages (such as Latin and Russian) have distinct participles for active and passive uses. In English the present participle is essentially an active participle, while the past participle has both active and passive uses. The following examples illustrate this:

  • I saw John eating his dinner. (eating is an active participle; the modified noun John is understood as the agent)
  • I have eaten my dinner. (perfect construction; eaten is an active participle here)
  • The fish was eaten by lions. (here eaten is a passive participle; the fish is understood as the patient, i.e. to undergo the action)

A distinction is also sometimes made between adjectival participles and adverbial participles. An adverbial participle (or a participial phrase/clause based on such a participle) plays the role of an adverbial (adverb phrase) in the sentence in which it appears, whereas an adjectival participle (or a participial phrase/clause based on one) plays the role of an adjective phrase. Some languages have different forms for the two types of participle; such languages include Russian[4] and other Slavic languages, Hungarian, and many Eskimo languages, such as Sireniki,[5] which has a sophisticated participle system. Details can be found in the sections below or in the articles on the grammars of specific languages.

Some descriptive grammars treat adverbial and adjectival participles as distinct lexical categories, while others include them both in a single category of participles.[4][6] Sometimes different names are used; adverbial participles in certain languages may be called converbs, gerunds, or gerundives (though this is not consistent with the meanings of the terms gerund or gerundive as normally applied to English or Latin), or transgressives.

Sometimes adjectival participles come to be used as pure adjectives, without any verbal characteristics (deverbal adjectives). They then no longer take objects or other modifiers typical of verbs, possibly taking instead modifiers that are typical of adjectives, such as the English word very. The difference is illustrated by the following examples:

  • The subject interesting him at the moment is Greek history.
  • Greek history is an interesting subject.

In the first sentence interesting is used as a true participle; it acts as a verb, taking the object him, and forming the participial phrase interesting him at the moment, which then serves as an adjective phrase modifying the noun subject. However, in the second sentence interesting has become a pure adjective; it stands in an adjective's typical position before the noun, it can no longer take an object, and it could be accompanied by typical adjective modifiers such as very or quite (or in this case the prefix un-). Similar examples are "interested people", "a frightened rabbit", "fallen leaves", "meat-eating animals".

Indo-European languages

Germanic languages


In Old English, past participles of Germanic strong verbs were marked with a ge- prefix, as are most strong and weak past participles in Dutch and German today, and often by a vowel change in the stem. Those of weak verbs were marked by the ending -d, with or without an epenthetic vowel before it. Modern English past participles derive from these forms (although the ge- prefix, which became y- in Middle English, has now been lost).

Old English present participles were marked with an ending in -ende (or -iende for verbs whose infinitives ended in -ian). In Middle English, various forms were used in different regions: -ende (southwest, southeast, Midlands), -inde (southwest, southeast), -and (north), -inge (southeast). The last is the one that became standard, falling together with the suffix -ing used to form verbal nouns. See -ing (etymology).

Modern English verbs, then, have two participles:

  • The present participle, also sometimes called the active, imperfect, or progressive participle, takes the ending -ing. It is identical in form to the gerund (and verbal noun); the term present participle is sometimes used to include the gerund, and the term "gerund–participle" is also used.
  • The past participle, also sometimes called the passive or perfect participle, is identical to the past tense form (ending in -ed) in the case of regular verbs, but takes various forms in the case of irregular verbs, such as sung, written, put, gone, etc.

Details of participle formation can be found under English verbs and List of English irregular verbs.

The present participle, or participial phrases (clauses) formed from it, are used as follows:

  • to form the progressive (continuous) aspect: Jim was sleeping.
  • as an adjective phrase modifying a noun phrase: The man sitting over there is my uncle.
  • adverbially, the subject being understood to be the same as that of the main clause: Looking at the plans, I gradually came to see where the problem lay. He shot the man, killing him.
  • similarly, but with a different subject, placed before the participle (the nominative absolute construction): He and I having reconciled our differences, the project then proceeded smoothly.
  • more generally as a clause or sentence modifier: Broadly speaking, the project was successful. (See also dangling participle.)

Past participles, or participial phrases (clauses) formed from them, are used as follows:

  • to form the perfect aspect: The chicken has eaten.
  • to form the passive voice: The chicken was eaten.
  • as an adjective phrase: The chicken eaten by the children was contaminated. (See also reduced relative clause.)
  • adverbially: Seen from this perspective, the problem presents no easy solution.
  • in a nominative absolute construction, with a subject: The task finished, we returned home.

Both types of participles are also often used as pure adjectives (see Types of participles above). Here present participles are used in their active sense ("an exciting adventure", i.e. one that excites), while past participles are usually used passively ("the attached files", i.e. those that have been attached), although those formed from intransitive verbs may sometimes be used with active meaning ("our fallen comrades", i.e. those who have fallen). Some such adjectives also form adverbs, such as interestingly and excitedly.

The gerund is distinct from the present participle in that it (or rather the verb phrase it forms) acts as a noun rather than an adjective or adverb: "I like sleeping'"; "Sleeping is not allowed." There is also a pure verbal noun with the same form ("the breaking of one's vows is not to be taken lightly"). For more on the distinctions between these uses of the -ing verb form, see -ing: uses.

For more details on uses of participles and other parts of verbs in English, see Uses of English verb forms, including the sections on the present participle and past participle.

Latin and Romance languages


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Latin has three or four participles:

  • present active participle: present stem + -ns (gen. -ntis); e.g. amāns "he who loves"
  • perfect passive participle: participial stem + -us, -a, -um; e.g. amātus "he who is loved"
  • future active participle: participial stem + -ūrus, -ūra, -ūrum; e.g. amātūrus "about to love"
  • gerundive (sometimes considered the future passive participle): present stem + -(e)ndus, -(e)nda, -(e)ndum; e.g. amandus "he who is to be loved"
"I love"
active passive
present amāns
perfect amātus
future amātūrus amandus


There are two basic participles:

  • Present active participle: formed by dropping the -ons of the nous form of the present tense of a verb (except with être and avoir) and then adding ant: marchant "walking", étant "being"
  • Past participle: formation varies according to verb group: vendu "sold", mis "placed", marché "walked", été "been", and fait "done". The sense of the past participle is passive as an adjective and in most verbal constructions with "avoir", but active in verbal constructions with "être", in reflexive constructions, and with some intransitive verbs.[7]

Compound participles are possible:

  • Present perfect participle: ayant appelé "having called", étant mort "being dead"
  • Passive perfect participle: étant vendu "being sold, having been sold"


  • Present participles are used as qualifiers as in "un insecte volant" (a flying insect) and in some other contexts. They are never used to form tenses. The present participle is used in subordinate clauses, usually with en: "Je marche, en parlant".
  • Past participles are used as qualifiers for nouns: "la table cassée" (the broken table); to form compound tenses such as the perfect "Vous avez dit" (you have said) and to form the passive voice: "il a été tué" (he/it has been killed).


In Spanish, the present or active participle (participio activo or participio de presente) of a verb is traditionally formed with one of the suffixes -ante, -ente or -iente, but modern grammar does not consider it a verbal form any longer, as they become adjectives or nouns on their own: e.g. amante "loving" or "lover", viviente "living" or "live".

The continuous is constructed much as in English, using a conjugated form of estar (to be) plus the gerundio (sometimes called a verbal adverb or adverbial participle as it does not decline) with the suffixes -ando (for -ar verbs), -iendo (for both -er and -ir verbs whose stems end in consonants), or -yendo (for both -er and -ir verbs whose stems end in vowels): for example, estar haciendo means to be doing (haciendo being the gerundio of hacer, to do), and there are related constructions such as seguir haciendo meaning to keep doing (seguir being to continue).

The past participle (participio pasado or pasivo) is regularly formed with one of the suffixes -ado, -ido, but several verbs have an irregular form ending in -to (e.g. escrito, visto), or -cho (e.g. dicho, hecho). The past participle is used generally as an adjective meaning a finished action, and it is variable in gender and number in these uses; and also it is used to form the compound tenses (as in English) in which it is indeclinable. Some examples:

As an adjective
  • las cartas escritas "the written letters"
To form compound tenses
  • Ha escrito una carta. "(She, he, it) Has written a letter."

Hellenic languages

Ancient Greek

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The Ancient Greek participle shares in the properties of adjectives and verbs. Like an adjective, it changes form for gender, case, and number. Like a verb, it has tense and voice, is modified by adverbs, and can take verb arguments, including an object.[8]

There is a form of the participle for every combination of tense (present, aorist, perfect, future) and voice (active, middle, passive). All participles are based on the stems of the corresponding tenses. Here are the masculine nominative singular forms for a thematic and an athematic verb:

"I release"
active middle passive
present λύων λυόμενος
aorist λύσας λυσάμενος λυθείς
future λύσων λυσόμενος λυθησόμενος
perfect λελυκώς λελυμένος
"I put"
active middle passive
present τιθείς τιθέμενος
aorist θείς θέμενος τεθείς
future θήσων θησόμενος τεθησόμενος
perfect τεθηκώς τεθειμένος

Like an adjective, it can modify a noun, and can be used to embed one thought into another.

  • πολλὰ καὶ φύσει καὶ ἐπιστήμῃ δεῖ τὸν εὖ στρατηγήσοντα ἔχειν
    "he who intends to be a good general must have a great deal of ability and knowledge,"

In the example, the participial phrase τὸν εὖ στρατηγήσοντα, literally "the one going to be a good general," is used to embed the idea εὖ στρατηγήσει "he will be a good general" within the main verb.

The participle is very widely used in ancient Greek, especially in prose.

Celtic languages


In Welsh, the effect of a participle in the active voice is constructed by yn followed by the infinitive form (for the present participle) and wedi followed by the infinitive form (for the past participle). There is no mutation in either case. In the passive voice, participles are usually replaced by a compound phrase such as wedi cael ei/eu ("having got his/her/their") in contemporary Welsh and by the impersonal form in classical Welsh.

Slavic languages


The Polish word for participle is imiesłów (pl.: imiesłowy). There are four types of imiesłowy in two classes:

Adjectival participle (imiesłów przymiotnikowy)

  • active adjectival participle (imiesłów przymiotnikowy czynny): robiący - "doing", "one who does"
  • passive adjectival participle (imiesłów przymiotnikowy bierny): robiony - "being done" (can only be formed off transitive verbs)

Adverbial participle (imiesłów przysłówkowy)

  • present adverbial participle (imiesłów przysłówkowy współczesny): robiąc - "doing", "while doing"
  • perfect adverbial participle (imiesłów przysłówkowy uprzedni): zrobiwszy - "having done" (formed in virtually all cases off verbs in their perfective forms, here denoted by the prefix z-)

Dangling participle

Due to the distinction between adjectival and adverbial participles, in Polish it is practically impossible to make a dangling participle mistake in the classical English meaning of the term. For instance, in the sentence:

"I have found them hiding in the closet."

it is unclear, whether "I" or "them" is hiding in the closet. In Polish there is a clear distinction:

  • "Znalazłem ich, chowając się w szafie." - chowając is a present adverbial participle regarding the subject ("I")
  • "Znalazłem ich chowających się w szafie" - chowających is an active adjectival participle regarding the object ("them")


Verb: слышать [ˈslɨ.ʂɐtʲ] (to hear, imperfective aspect)

Present active: слышащий [ˈslɨ.ʂɐ.ɕɕɪj] "hearing", "who hears"
Present passive: слышимый [ˈslɨ.ʂᵻ.məj] "being heard", "that is heard", "audible"
Past active: слышавший [ˈslɨ.ʂɐf.ʂəj] "who heard", "who was hearing"
Past passive: слышанный [ˈslɨ.ʂɐn.nəj] "that was heard", "that was being heard"
Adverbial present active: слыша [ˈslɨ.ʂɐ] "(while) hearing"
Adverbial past active: слышав [ˈslɨ.ʂɐf] "having been hearing"

Verb: услышать [ʊˈslɨ.ʂɐtʲ] (to hear, perfective aspect)

Past active: услышавший [ʊˈslɨ.ʂɐf.ʂəj] "who has heard"
Past passive: услышанный [ʊˈslɨ.ʂɐn.nəj] "that has been heard"
Adverbial past active: услышав [ʊˈslɨ.ʂɐf] "having heard"
Future participles formed from perfective verbs are technically possible, though not considered a part of standard language.[9]


Verb: правя pravja (to do, imperfective aspect)

Present active: правещ pravešt
Past active aorist: правил pravil
Past active imperfect: правел pravel (only used in verbal constructions)
Past passive: правен praven
Adverbial present active: правейки pravejki

Verb: направя napravja (to do, perfective aspect)
Past active aorist: направил napravil
Past active imperfect: направел napravel (only used in verbal constructions)
Past passive: направен napraven

Participles are adjectives formed as verbs


Macedonian completely lost or transformed the participles of the Common Slavic, unlike the other Slavic languages. The following is noted:[10]

  • present active participle: it transformed into verbal adverb;
  • present passive participle: there are some isolated cases of present passive participle (or remnants of it), such as the word лаком [lakom] (greedy);
  • past active participle: there is only one word (remnant) of the past active participle, which is the word бивш [bivš] (former). However, this word is often substituted with the word поранешен [poranešen] (former);
  • past passive participle: transformed into verbal adjective (it behaves like normal adjective);
  • resultative participle: transformed into verbal l-form (глаголска л-форма). It is not a participle since it doesn't function attributively.

Baltic languages


Among Indo-European languages, the Lithuanian language is unique for having thirteen different participial forms of the verb, that can be grouped into five when accounting for inflection by tense. Some of these are also inflected by gender and case. For example, the verb eiti ("to go, to walk") has the active participle forms einąs/einantis ("going, walking", present tense), ėjęs (past tense), eisiąs (future tense), eidavęs (past frequentative tense), the passive participle forms einamas ("being walked", present tense), eitas (“walked“ past tense), eisimas (future tense), the adverbial participles einant ("while [he, different subject] is walking" present tense), ėjus (past tense), eisiant (future tense), eidavus (past frequentative tense), the semi-participle eidamas ("while [he, the same subject] is going, walking") and the participle of necessity eitinas ("that which needs to be walked"). The active, passive and the semi- participles are inflected by gender and the active, passive and necessity ones are inflected by case.

Semitic languages


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The Arabic verb has two participles: an active participle (اسم الفاعل) and a passive participle (اسم المفعول ), and the form of the participle is predictable by inspection of the dictionary form of the verb. These participles are inflected for gender, number and case, but not person. Arabic participles are employed syntactically in a variety of ways: as nouns, as adjectives or even as verbs. Their uses vary across varieties of Arabic. In general the active participle describes a property of the syntactic subject of the verb from which it derives, whilst the passive participles describes the object. For example, from the verb كتب kataba, the active participle is kātib كاتب and the passive participle is maktūb مكتوب. Roughly these translate to "writing" and "written" respectively. However, they have different, derived lexical uses. كاتب kātib is further lexicalized as "writer", "author" and مكتوب maktūb as "letter".

In Classical Arabic these participles do not participate in verbal constructions with auxiliaries the same way as their English counterparts do, and rarely take on a verbal meaning in a sentence (a notable exception being participles derived from motion verbs as well as participles in Qur'anic Arabic). In certain dialects of Arabic however, it is much more common for the participles, especially the active participle, to have verbal force in the sentence. For example, in dialects of the Levant, the active participle is a structure that describes the state of the syntactic subject after the action of the verb from which it derives has taken place. ʼĀkil, the active participle of ʼakala ("to eat"), describes one's state after having eaten something. Therefore it can be used in analogous way to the English present perfect (for example, ʼAnā ʼākil انا آكل meaning "I have eaten", "I have just eaten" or "I have already eaten"). Other verbs, such as rāḥa راح ("to go") give a participle (rāyiḥ رايح), which has a progressive ("is going...") meaning. The exact tense or continuity of these participles is therefore determined by the nature of the specific verb (especially its lexical aspect and its transitivity) and the syntactic/semantic context of the utterance. What ties them all together is that they describe the subject of the verb from which they derive. The passive participles in certain dialects can be used as a sort of passive voice, but more often than not, are used in their various lexicalized senses as adjectives or nouns.

Finno-Ugric languages


Finnish uses 6 participles to convey different meanings. Below is a table displaying the declension of the participles of the verb tappaa (to kill).

Finnish Participles
Active Passive
Present tappava tapettava
Past tappanut tapettu
Agent tappama-
Negative tappamaton

The participles work in the following way:


Present active participle: Conveys an ongoing action. Used to omit the use of the relative pronoun who, which or that. Tappava means "killing" as in "killing machine". In other words, machine that kills. It can also work as the subject of the sentence. In other words, tappava can mean "the one who kills" or "he who kills". Tappava on... = He who kills is...


Present passive participle: Conveys possibility and obligation. Possibility as in -able (killable) and obligation as in something that has to be killed. Tapettava mies can mean both "the killable man" (possibility) and "the man who has to be killed" (obligation).


Past active participle: Used with the verb olla (to be) to construct the perfect and the past perfect tenses. In English the verb "to have" is used to form the perfect and past perfect tense (I have/had killed), in Finnish the verb "to be" is used instead (minä olen/olin tappanut). Just like the present active participle, it can also be used as the subject in a sentence, except it conveys the meaning in the past tense. In other words, tappanut can mean "the one who killed" or "he who killed". Tappanut on... = He who killed is...


Past passive participle: A concluded action. Tapettu mies = the killed man.


Agent participle: Always used with a possessive suffix. It is used to convey the meaning of the word "by" in English, since there is no word for "by" in Finnish. Hänen tappamansa mies = The man killed by him. The tense of the translation depends on the context.


Negative participle: Used to convey impossibility (unkillable) and undoneness (not killed). Tappamaton mies means both "unkillable man" and "man (who is) not killed".

Each and every one of these participles can be used as adjectives, which means that some of them can be turned into nouns.

Finnish (adjective) tappava tapettava tappamaton
English (adjective) killing killable unkillable (possibility) or not killed (undoneness)
Finnish (noun) tappavuus tapettavuus tappamattomuus
English (noun) killingness killability unkillability (possibility) or lack of killing (undoneness)

Other languages

Sireniki Eskimo

Sireniki Eskimo language, an extinct Eskimo–Aleut language, has separate sets of adverbial participles and adjectival participles. Different from in English, adverbial participles are conjugated to reflect the person and number of their implicit subjects; hence, while in English a sentence like "If I were a marksman, I would kill walruses" requires two full clauses (to distinguish the two verbs' different subjects), in Sireniki Eskimo one of these may be replaced with an adverbial participle (since its conjugation indicates the subject).


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Esperanto has 6 different participle conjugations; active and passive for past, present and future. The participles are formed as follows:

Past Present Future
Active -int- -ant- -ont-
Passive -it- -at- -ot-

For example, a falonta botelo is a bottle that will fall. A falanta botelo is one that is falling through the air. After it hits the floor, it is a falinta botelo. These examples use the active participles, but the usage of the passive participles is similar. A cake that is going to be divided is a dividota kuko. When it is in the process of being divided, it is a dividata kuko. Having been cut, it is now a dividita kuko.

These participles can be used in conjunction with the verb to be, esti, forming 18 compound tenses (9 active and 9 passive). However, this soon becomes complicated and often unnecessary, and is only frequently used when rigorous translation of English is required. An example of this would be la knabo estos instruita, or, the boy will have been taught. This example sentence is then in the future anterior.

When the suffix -o is used, instead of -a, then the participle refers to a person. A manĝanto is someone who is eating. A manĝinto is someone who ate. A manĝonto is someone who will eat. Also, a manĝito is someone who was eaten, a manĝato is someone who is being eaten, and a manĝoto is someone who will be eaten.

These rules hold true to all verbs, and there are no exceptions.

An informal addition to these six are the participles for conditional forms, which use -unt-. The active participles are the only ones generally used. For example, a "komencunto" is a person who would (have) begun. A "parolunto" is someone who would (have) spoken.

See also


  1. What is a participle? in Glossary of linguistic terms at SIL International.
  2. participium. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  3. μετοχή. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Russian Participles. Part of “An Interactive On-line Reference Grammar — Russian” by Dr. Robert Beard.
  5. Menovshchikov, G.A.: Language of Sireniki Eskimos. Phonetics, morphology, texts and vocabulary. Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow • Leningrad, 1964. Original data: Г.А. Меновщиков: Язык сиреникских эскимосов. Фонетика, очерк морфологии, тексты и словарь. Академия Наук СССР. Институт языкознания. Москва • Ленинград, 1964
  6. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  7. Maurice Grevisse, Le Bon Usage, 10th edition, § 776.
  8. Smyth, A Greek Grammar for Colleges, section 2039.
  9. Shagal (Krapivina), Future participles in Russian: Expanding the participial paradigm
  10. Macedonian Grammar, Victor Friedman


  • Participles from the American Heritage Book of English Usage (1996).

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