Spanish and English Past Participles Compared

Verb form can also be used as adjective

Calle Jaen, a street in La Paz, Bolivia
People walk on Calle Jaen, a cobbled street in La Paz, Bolivia.

Matthew Williams-Ellis / Getty Images

You don't have to look far to see the close relationship between English and the languages derived from Latin. While the similarities are most obvious in vocabulary, English also includes key aspects of its grammar that have analogs in Latin-based languages, including Spanish. Among them is the past participle, an extremely useful type of word that can be used, in English as well as Spanish, as either part of a verb form or as an adjective.

Forms Taken by Past Participles

Past participles in English aren't always as obvious as they are in Spanish, because they often take the same form as the past tense, in that they usually end in "-ed." In the verb form, you can tell when an "-ed" verb is functioning as a past participle in that it is combined with some form of the verb "to have." For example, "worked" is a past-tense verb in the sentence "I worked" but a past participle in "I have worked." Less commonly, a past participle can also be used in the passive voice: In "The play is produced," "produced" is a past participle.

Spanish past participles typically end in -ado or -ido, thus bearing a vague similarity to the English equivalents. But their form is distinct from the simple past tenses, which include words such as compré (I bought) and vinieron (they came).

Both Spanish and English have numerous irregular past participles, especially of common verbs. In English, many, but far from all, end in "-en": broken, driven, given, seen. Others don't follow that pattern: made, hurt, heard, done.

In Spanish, nearly all of the irregular past participles end in -cho or -to: dicho, from decir (to say); hecho, from hacer (to make or to do); puesto, from poner (to put); and visto, from ver (ver).

Here are some of the most common irregular past participles in Spanish:

  • Abierto (from abrir, to open)
  • Cubierto (from cubrir, to cover)
  • Escrito (from escribir, to write)
  • Frito (from freír, to fry)
  • Impreso (from imprimir, to print)
  • Muerto (from morir, to die)
  • Roto (from romper, to break)
  • Vuelto (from volver, to return)

Using Past Participles as Adjectives

Another similarity between English and Spanish is that past participles are frequently used as adjectives. Here are a few examples that the two languages share:

  • Estoy satisfecho. (I'm satisfied.)
  • Los Estados Unidos. (The United States.)
  • El hombre confundido. (The confused man.)
  • Pollo frito. (Fried chicken.)

In fact, while it often is awkward to do so, most verbs in either language can be converted to adjectives by using the past participle.

Because they function as adjectives in such Spanish usages, they must agree in both number and gender with the nouns they accompany.

The same is true in Spanish when the past participle follows a form of either ser or estar, both of which are translated as "to be." Examples:

  • Los regalos fueron envueltos. (The gifts were wrapped.)
  • Las computadoras fueron rotas. (The computers were broken.)
  • Estoy cansada. (I am tired, said by a female.)
  • Estoy cansado. (I am tired, said by a male.)

In Spanish, many past participles can also be used as nouns, simply because adjectives can be freely used as nouns when the context makes their meaning clear. One sometimes seen in news stories is los desaparacidos, referring to those who have disappeared due to oppression. Frequently, adjectives used as nouns are translated using the English "one" as in los escondidos, the hidden ones, and el colorado, the colored one.

This phenomenon also appears in English, although less commonly in Spanish. For example, we might talk about "the lost" or "the forgotten" where "lost" and "forgotten" functioning as nouns.)

Using the Past Participle for the Perfect Tenses

The other major use of the past participle is to combine with the verb haber in Spanish or "to have": in English (the verbs probably have a common origin) to form the perfect tenses. Generally speaking, the perfect tenses are used to refer to actions that are or will be completed:

  • He hablado. (I have spoken.)
  • Habrá salido. (She will have left.)
  • ¿Has comido? (Have you eaten?)

As you can see, the past participle is one of the ways that verbs in both Spanish and English gain their versatility and flexibility. Watch for uses of the past participle in your reading, and you may be surprised to see how often the word form is put to good use.

Key Takeaways

  • Past participles function very similarly in English and Spanish, as they are both verb forms that can function as adjectives and sometimes as nouns.
  • Past participles combine with haber in Spanish and "have" in English to form the perfect tenses.
  • Regular past participles end in "-ed" in English and -ado or -ido in Spanish.