Past participle (ed-form of the verb)

(Use and formation of the past or perfect participle in English)

What is the past participle and how is it used (explanation)?

The past participle is sometimes also called the perfect participle or simply third verb form. It is the form of the verb in English grammar that is needed for the formation of the perfect tenses (present perfect, past perfect, future perfect) as well as the passive voice. It can also be used as an adjective.

  • The past participle is required for the perfect tenses with simple aspect – which means non-progressive – in order to …
    • … form the present perfect simple:
      • “They have prepared lunch.”
      • “Sandra has worked there for a long time.”
    • … form the past perfect simple:
      • “We had stayed on holiday for almost four weeks.”
      • “Marc had bought a new car before he sold his old one.”
    • … form the future perfect simple:
      • “By the end of next year, Carmen will have finished all her exams.”
      • “I will have lived here for 30 years by the end of next month.”
  • Furthermore, it is part of the passive voice if it is not used in its progressive form:
    • “The song is played on the radio.”
    • “In 20 years, housework will be done by robots.”
  • It can also be utilised as an adjective. If this is the case, it is always associated with a noun:
    • “I have to return the damaged package this afternoon.”
    • “You cannot drive a car with a broken arm.”

How is the past participle formed?

The past participle and the past form of regular verbs are basically formed by attaching the suffix ‘-ed’ to the infinitive (base form of the verb). Irregular verbs have unique forms, which are listed in the third column of the respective table. However, even for regular verbs, there are some specific changes in spelling that need to be taken into account during formation:

  • Most regular verbs just get ‘-ed’ at the end:
    • listen → listened
    • open → opened
  • Verbs that already end in ‘-e’ are only complemented with a ‘-d’:
    • close → closed
    • tackle → tackled
  • If the verb ends in a consonant + ‘-y’, the ‘-y’ is replaced by ‘-ied’:
    • try → tried
    • apply → applied
    • Exception: For verbs that have a vowel before the ‘-y’, the ‘-y’ is retained:
      • stay → stayed
  • For verbs ending in a stressed vowel + consonant, this consonant is doubled and ‘-ed’ is attached:
    • drop → dropped
    • prefer → preferred
    • commit → committed
    • Be careful: If the last syllable is not stressed, the consonant is not doubled:
      • reckon → reckoned
      • render → rendered
      • profit → profited
    • Similarly, the final consonant that follows two vowels in a row is not doubled:
      • reveal → revealed
  • Verbs with the ending ‘-ic’ are special. Is this the case, an additional ‘-k’ is inserted for reasons of pronunciation:
    • panic → panicked

Spelling differences of the past participle in American and British English

The past participle has some differences in spelling that depend on the writing in British or American English. Compare the variations:

  • In British English, verbs ending in a stressed or unstressed vowel + ‘-l’ double the ‘-l’:
    • enrol → enrolled (stressed vowel at the end of the word → the ‘-l’ is doubled)
    • travel → travelled (unstressed vowel at the end of the word → ‘-l’ is also doubled)
  • In American English, however, the ‘-l’ is only doubled if the verb ends with a stressed vowel + ‘-l’:
    • enrolenrolled (stressed vowel at the end of the verb → ‘-l’ is doubled)
    • traveltraveled (unstressed vowel → in this case, the ‘-l’ is not doubled)

Further explanations relating to the ‘Past participle’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Use and formation of the past participle (perfect participle / third verb form)’ and might also be interesting for you: