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There are three kinds of participles in English: present participle, past participle and perfect participle. You probably know the first two from certain tenses and adjective forms. Apart from that, participles are also used to shorten sentences.

Present Participle

The present participle is the ing-form. You surely know this form:

  • from progressive / continuous tenses (e. g. Present Progressive) – I am speaking.
  • as an adjective form – The film is interesting.
  • as a gerund – He is afraid of flying.

Not the exceptions in spelling when adding 'ing':

Exception Example
final e dropped (but: ee is not changed) come – coming (but: agree - agreeing)
final consonant after short, stressed vowel is doubled sit – sitting
final consonant l after vowel is always doubled (in British English) travel – travelling
final ie becomes y lie – lying

The present participle can be used to describe the following verbs:

come, go, sit

Example: The girl sat crying on the sofa.

The present participle can also be used after verbs of the senses if we do not want to emphasise that the action was completed. (see Infinitive or Ing-Form)

feel, find, hear, listen to, notice, see, smell, watch

Example: Did you see him dancing?

Furthermore, the present participle can be used to shorten or combine active clauses that have the same subject.

Example: She left the house and whistled. – She left the house whistling.

Past Participle

The past participle is the participle that you find in the third column of lists with irregular verbs. You surely know this form:

  • from perfect tenses (z. B. Present Perfect Simple) – I have spoken.
  • from passive voice – The letter was written.
  • as an adjective form – I was bored to death.

For irregular participle forms see third column of irregular verbs. Regular verbs form the past participle by adding ed, however, note the following exceptions in spelling:

Exceptions when adding edExample
after a final e, only add d love – loved
final consonant after a short, stressed vowel
or l as final consonant after a vowel is doubled
admit – admitted
travel – travelled
final y after a consonant becomes i hurry – hurried

The past participle can also be used to shorten or combine passive clauses that have the same subject.

Example: The boy was given an apple. He stopped crying. – Given an apple, the boy stopped crying.

Perfect Participle

The perfect participle can be used to shorten or combine clauses that have the same subject if …

  • … one action (the one where the perfect participle is used) is completed before the next action starts.

    Example: She bought a bike and cycled home. – Having bought a bike, she cycled home.

  • … one action has been going on for a period of time when another action starts.

    Example: He had been living there for such a long time that he didn't want to move to another town. – Having lived there for such a long time, he didn't want to move to another town.

The perfect participle can be used for active and passive voice.

  • active voice: having + past participle (Having cooked, he set the table.)
  • passive voice: having been + past participle (Having been cooked, the food looked delicious.)

Use of Participle Clauses

If a clause is shortened using a participle construction, the clause is called participle clause.

Example: Watching TV, she forgot everything around her.

In English, participle clauses are mainly used in writing in order to put a lot of information into one sentence.

When shortening or combining clauses with a participle construction, keep the following rules in mind:

  • Both clauses should have the same subject.
  • The less important part becomes the participle clause. Important information should always be in the main clause.
  • Make sure, you use the correct participle form (see above).
  • The conjunctions as, because, since and relative pronouns who, which are left out.
  • The conjunctions before, when are used in the participle clause.
  • The conjunctions after, while can be used or left out.

Participle Clauses with different Subjects

Sometimes participle clauses can be used even if the clauses to be combined do not have the same subject. This is the case for example if the main clause contains one of the following verbs + object:

feel, find, hear, listen to, notice, see, smell, watch

Example: I heard him playing the guitar.

Here, the participle clause must directly follow the object it is relating to. (Note: Some of the verbs mentioned here can also be used with the infinitive. For further information see Infinitive or Ing-Form)

A participle construction is also possible, if both subjects are mentioned (often the word 'with' is put before the subject in the participle clause). This is very formal, however, and not often used.

Example: Mrs Jones went to New York. Mr Smith took up her position.
(With) Mrs Jones going to New York, Mr Smith took up her position.

Incorrect Participle Clauses

Apart from the exceptions mentioned above, participle clause and main clause should have the same subject. Otherwise the sentences might sound rather strange.

Example: I was driving on the motorway, when the baby started to cry.
→ Falscher Partizipialsatz: Driving on the motorway, the baby started to cry.

In this example you get the feeling that the baby has driven the car. So these participle clauses are considered wrong in standard English. In colloquial English, these 'incorrect participle clauses' are usually okay, and you can even find an example in Shakespeare's Hamlet:

Now, Hamlet, hear. ’Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, a serpent stung me.

As the text goes, it is said that Hamlet's father was bitten by a snake. Strictly speaking, however, the snake was asleep when it bit Hamlet's father.

Exercises and Tests

Present Participle

Past Participle

Perfect Participle

Participle Mix