A participle (glossing abbreviation PTCP) is a form of a verb that is used in a sentence to modify a noun, noun phrase, verb, or verb phrase, and plays a role similar to an adjective or adverb. A simpler, but less comprehensive, definition is that it is a verbal adjective. It is one of the types of nonfinite verb forms. Its name comes from the Latin participium, a calque of Greek metochḗ "partaking" or "sharing"; 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).
- Types of participle
- Old English
- Middle English
- Modern English
- Ancient Greek
- Sireniki Eskimo
Like other parts of the verb, participles can be either active (e.g. breaking) or passive (e.g. broken). Participles 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) and the past participle (forms such as written, sung and raised).
Participles have various uses in a sentence. One common use of a participle is to describe the circumstances surrounding the main verb. For example:
In the above sentence, the participles can be interpreted as equivalent to an adverbial clause of time, namely "after he had drawn his sword", and "when she was sleeping".
A second common use of participles is as adjectives:
A third use is in an adjectival phrase such as the following:
In English such phrases generally follow the noun they describe, and they can be seen as the equivalent of a descriptive relative clause ("a woman who was wearing a red hat").
A fourth use of participles in some languages is in combination with an auxiliary verb such as "has" or "is". Together the two words make a compound or periphrastic verb tense which in other languages can be expressed by a single verb:
A verb phrase based on a participle and having the function of a participle is called a participle phrase or participial phrase (participial is an 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 § Modern 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:
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 and other Slavic languages, Hungarian, and many Eskimo languages, such as Sireniki, 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. 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:
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".
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, the form of the present participle varied across 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 have two participles:
In addition various compound participles can be formed, such as having done, being done, having been doing, having been done.
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:
Past participles, or participial phrases (clauses) formed from them, are used as follows:
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"). Sometimes this identity of forms can lead to ambiguity, as Noam Chomsky pointed out in his well-known example:
When the meaning is "The practice of flying a plane is dangerous", flying is a noun and can be called a gerund; when the meaning is "Planes which fly" or "Planes when they are flying", flying is being used adjectivally or adverbially and can be called a participle.
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 grammar was the chief grammar studied in Europe for hundreds of years, especially the handbook written by the 4th-century teacher Aelius Donatus, and it is from Latin that the name and concept of the participle derives. According to Donatus there are four participles in Latin, as follows:
However, many modern Latin grammars treat the gerundive as a separate part of speech.
The perfect participle is usually passive in meaning, and thus mainly formed from transitive verbs, for example frāctus "broken", missus "sent (by someone)". However, there are a few verbs (called deponent verbs) which have a perfect participle in an active sense, e.g. profectus "having set out", hortātus "having encouraged", etc. The present and future participles are always active, the gerundive usually passive.
A typical use of participles is the following sentence by Livy, which contains both a perfect and a present participle:
"With drawn sword he came to the sleeping Lucretia."
The first point to note about this is that because the participle is an adjective as well as a verb, just as with other adjectives and nouns in Latin its ending changes according to its function in the sentence. Thus strīctus gladius "a drawn sword" changes in this sentence to strīctō gladiō "with a drawn sword", since the meaning is "with". Similarly, dormiēns Lucrētia changes to ad dormientem Lucrētiam "to the sleeping Lucretia", since the preposition ad "to" requires a form of the word with the ending -m. These different endings in Latin are known as cases, and there are six possibilities.
The participle also has to agree with the noun in gender and number; thus since gladius "sword" is a masculine noun and is singular, strīctō ends in the masculine -ō rather than the feminine -ā or the plural -īs.
The second point illustrated by this sentence is that a participle can have either a static, adjectival meaning or a more dynamic, verbal one. Thus strīctō gladiō could mean either "with a drawn sword" (static) or "after drawing his sword" (dynamic). The dynamic, verbal meaning is more common, and Latin often uses a participle where English might use a simple verb (e.g. "he drew his sword and came...").
The present participle often describes the circumstances attending the main verb. A typical example is:
"Balbus came to me running."
The subject case currēns is used here, rather than currentem, since the participle describes the subject of the sentence (Balbus) rather than the person to whom he came.
Both the future and the perfect participle (but not the present participle) can be used with various tenses of the verb esse "to be" to make a compound tense such as the future-in-the-past or the perfect passive:
"On that day he was going to return to Rome."
"He was killed by the Thebans."
The future participle in Latin is often used, with or without esse, in indirect speech, referring to an event which is due to occur at a time later than the time of the main verb, for example:
"He said that they were easily going to find the place / He said that they would find the place easily."
For uses of the gerundive, see Latin syntax#The gerundive.
There are two basic participles:
Compound participles are possible:
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:
To form compound tenses:
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.
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:
Like an adjective, it can modify a noun, and can be used to embed one thought into another.
"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.
In Welsh, the effect of a participle in the active voice is constructed by yn followed by the verb-noun (for the present participle) and wedi followed by the verb-noun (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 ...ing") in contemporary Welsh and by the impersonal form in classical Welsh.
The Polish word for participle is imiesłów (pl.: imiesłowy). There are four types of imiesłowy in two classes:
Adjectival participle (imiesłów przymiotnikowy):
Adverbial participle (imiesłów przysłówkowy):
Due to the distinction between adjectival and adverbial participles, in Polish it is practically impossible to make a dangling participle in the classical English meaning of the term. For instance, in the sentence:
it is unclear whether "I" or "they" were hiding in the closet. In Polish there is a clear distinction:
Verb: слышать [ˈslɨ.ʂɐtʲ] (to hear, imperfective aspect)
Verb: услышать [ʊˈslɨ.ʂɐtʲ] (to hear, perfective aspect)
Future participles formed from perfective verbs are technically possible, though not considered a part of standard language.
Participles are adjectives formed from verbs. There are various kinds:
Verb: правя [pravja] (to do, imperfective aspect):
Verb: направя [napravja] (to do, perfective aspect):
Macedonian completely lost or transformed the participles of the Common Slavic, unlike the other Slavic languages. The following is noted:
Among Indo-European languages, the Lithuanian language is unique for having fourteen 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.
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.
Finnish uses six participles to convey different meanings. Below is a table displaying the declension of the participles of the verb tappaa (to kill).
The participles work in the following way:
Each and every one of these participles can be used as adjectives, which means that some of them can be turned into nouns.
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).
Esperanto has six different participle conjugations; active and passive for past, present and future. The participles are formed as follows:
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 transitive verbs. Since copular and intransitive verbs do not have passive voice, their participle forms can only be active.
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.