Past participles, or -en participles, are a nonfinite verb form in English that perform verbal and adjectival functions. The following sections explain how to form past participles of irregular English verbs including anomalous and how to use past participles in English and include examples to illustrate form and function. Past participles are also referred to as -en participles, passive participles, and perfect participles. Irregular verbs are verbs in Germanic languages that express the simple past tense by means of changes to the stem vowel (ablaut). Irregular verbs are also referred to as strong verbs.
Forming Irregular Past Participles
To form the past participle of some irregular verbs in English, simply add the suffix -en or -n to the base form of the verb. The base form of a verb is defined as the infinitive without the p-word to functioning as an infinitive marker. For example, the following list includes the infinitive, base form, and past participle of some common English verbs:
- to arise – arise – arisen
- to eat – eat – eaten
- to know – know – known
- to mistake – mistake – mistaken
For other irregular English verbs, the past participle form is identical to the base form. For example:
- to become – become – become
- to cost – cost – cost
- to hit – hit – hit
- to shut – shut – shut
Other irregular English verbs experience a vowel change from the base form to the past participle. For example:
- to begin – begin – begun
- to drink – drink – drunk
- to meet – meet – met
- to swim – swim – swum
Some irregular English verbs experience both a vowel change and the addition of the -en or -n suffix. For example:
- to awake – awake – awoken
- to choose – choose – chosen
- to hide – hide – hidden
- to write – write – written
Other irregular English verbs experience a consonant change from the base form to the past participle. For example:
- to build – build – built
- to have – have – had
- to leave – leave – left
- to make – make – made
Some irregular English verbs also experience both a vowel and a consonant change from the base form to the past participle. For example:
- to bring – bring – brought
- to hear – hear – heard
- to teach – teach – taught
The English verb system finally includes three anomalous verbs, which are verbs whose conjugation schemes differ significantly from both regular and irregular verbs. The three anomalous verbs in English are be, do, and go. For example:
- to be – be – been
- to do – do – done
- to go – go – gone
For the rules for forming the past participles of regular English verbs, please read Past Participles of Regular English Verbs.
Using Past Participles
Past participles are prototypically used within perfect aspect, perfect-progressive aspect, and passive voice verb phrase constructions. For example, the following italicized verbs are past participles:
- His father has eaten all the pie. (active present perfect)
- All the milk had been drunk by the children. (passive past perfect)
- The bed was being made by the maid when we left. (passive past progressive)
- This house has been being built with funding from a grant. (passive present perfect-progressive)
Past participles also perform three adjectival functions and one nominal function in English grammar. The four other functions of English past participles are:
- Noun phrase modifier (adjectival)
- Subject complement (adjectival)
- Object complement (adjectival)
- Appositive (nominal)
- The diamond stolen by the bandit is worth over a million dollars. (noun phrase modifier)
- The beverages drunk by the men differ from those drunk by the women. (noun phrase modifier)
- This was the airplane flown by my grandfather. (noun phrase modifier)
- The pie eaten by his father was for the contest. (noun phrase modifier)
- The chair is broken. (subject complement)
- The door was closed. (subject complement)
- The child made the priceless heirloom hidden. (object complement)
- The painting, once stolen and gone, has been found. (appositive)
Some past participles that perform adjectival functions may also be analyzed as adjectives.
Past participles of irregular verbs in English are formed by adding an -en or -n suffix to the end of the base form of the verb. Some English verbs also require spelling and pronunciation changes to create the -en participle. Past participles are used in perfect, perfect-progressive, and passive verb phrases as well as perform one other grammatical function.
Past participles are a nonfinite verb form in English that perform verbal and adjectival functions.
Past participles are also referred to as -en participles, passive participles, and perfect participles.
To form the past participle of many irregular verbs in English, simply add the suffix -en or -n to the base form of the verb.
Other irregular English verbs undergo vowel, consonant, and other changes to form the past participle.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm.