Present and past participles – misleading terms?

Today a visitor to the site emailed me and asked about participles. He wanted to know what they are and how many participles there are.

English has two types of participles: present participles and past participles. Here is a brief explanation of what they are and why the term participle sometimes confuses people.

The present participle

This is the form of the verb which ends in -ing: speaking, drinking, etc.

The obvious explanation for the name present participle comes from the fact that we use this form of the verb in the present continuous tense. However, this is misleading, as the present participle also features in the past continuous tense (I was waiting for him).

If we use a present participle as a noun, we call it a gerund:

I enjoy walking in the rain. /  Eating too much is unhealthy.

The past participle

This is the form of a verb that we use in the present perfect tense. For regular verbs it ends in -ed: talked, walked, played, etc.

Examples of irregular past participle forms include spoken, eaten, shown and forgotten.

Once again the term is confusing, as we also use the past participle in passive tenses, including the present and future passive:

The grass is cut every month. (present simple passive)
The problem will be forgotten eventually. (future simple passive)

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. Follow Stuart and contact him by subscribing to his monthly newsletter.


  1. sam - June 18, 2012, 9:09 am Reply

    Hi, Stuart
    It,s interesting . thank u for ur help

    • Stuart Cook - June 20, 2012, 7:20 am Reply

      Thanks, Sam. Glad you found it helpful.

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