Past Participles in English Grammar

The verbs describe actions begun and finished in the past

Irregular English test on table with pencil
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In English grammar, the past participle refers to an action that was started and completed entirely in the past. It is the third principal part of a verb, created by adding -ed, -d, or -t to the base form of a regular verb. The past participle is generally used with an auxiliary (or helping) verb—has, have, or had—to express the perfect aspect, a verb construction that describes events occurring in the past that are linked to a later time, usually the present.

In addition to the perfect aspect (or perfect tense), the past participle can be used in a passive voice or as an adjective.

Past Participles of Regular Verbs

To understand past participles, you first need to know how to make a verb past tense, says Study.com. To do so, simply add ed, d, or t, as in these examples that show the verb on the left and the simple past tense on the right:

  • Help > helped
  • Weep > wept
  • Work > worked

Turning these verbs into past participles is also simple: Make the verb past tense and precede it with an auxiliary verb, as in these examples that list the simple past on the left and the past participle on the right:

  • Helped > have helped
  • Visited > have visited
  • Worked > have worked

Though they may seem similar, there is a difference between regular past tense and past participle. The regular past has only one part while the past participle always has two or more parts, and as noted, generally requires an auxiliary verb, says Write.com.

An example of a sentence with a regular verb (using one of the above sentences) would be: "I helped my friend." You simply helped your friend at some time in the past, but you might continue to help her at some point in the future.

The same sentence with a past participle verb would be: "I have helped my friend." You began helping your friend in the past and completed the action of helping her in the past.

Past Participle of Irregular Verbs

The past participle forms of irregular verbs have various endings, including -d (said), -t (slept), and -n (broken). Irregular verbs are trickier to form in the simple past than regular verbs, says Study.com, which gives these examples:

  • Run > ran
  • Sing > sang
  • Go > went

To form the past participle of these irregular verbs, again precede them with an auxiliary verb:

  • Ran > has run, have run
  • Sing > has sung, have sung
  • Went > has gone, have gone

Common Irregular Past Participles

Viewing some of the most common irregular verbs, together with the simple past as well as their past participle forms, can be helpful in understanding how they are formed.

VerbSimple PastPast Participle
flyflewhave flown
riserosehad risen
shrinkshrankhad shrunk
feelfelthad felt
bitebithas bitten
catchcaughthave caught
drawdrewhave drawn
drivedrovehave driven
eatatehave eaten
fallfellhave fallen

Additionally, the verb wear is a classic example of an irregular verb that can be complicated to use as a past participle. You might wear underwear today if you are expressing action in the present. You wore underwear yesterday if you are expressing the simple past. To use the same irregular verb as a past participle, however, you might say, "I have worn my Superman underwear." This implies that you donned your Superman underwear in the past but you are no longer doing so.

Meanings and Forms of Past Participles

The past participle can indicate past, present, and future meanings, according to "Essentials of English: A Practical Handbook Covering All the Rules of English Grammar and Writing Style," which notes that the past participle has both perfect and progressive forms, as in:

  1. Thus deceived, he will be outraged. [Both actions are in the future.]
  2. Baffled by your attitude, I cannot help you. [Both actions are in the present.]
  3. Baffled by your attitude, I could not help you. [Both actions in the past.]

In the first sentence above, the participle acts like an appositive adjective, renaming the subject thief. The two actions occur completely in the future: The thief will be outraged and he (will be) deceived. Note how the past participle includes an implied form of a "to be" verb: will be.

In the second sentence, baffled is still a past participle but the action will have been started and completed entirely in the present. The past participle includes an implied auxiliary verb—having been—so the full sentence would read: "Having been baffled by your attitude, I cannot help you." The action of being baffled starts and is completed entirely in the present, as is the (non)action of not helping. 

In the same way, the third sentence starts with a past participle describing an action that started and was completed entirely in the past. The past participle also serves as an appositive adjective, describing the pronoun (and subject of the sentence). The full sentence would read: "Having been baffled by your attitude, I could not help you." The subjunctive mood in the second half of the sentence describes an action—could not help—that happened (or in this case did not happen) entirely in the past.