Participles in German

(The participles of the present and past tense)

Table of contents – participles

On this page you will find the following:

  1. What are participles?
  2. Formation of the participles
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What are the German participles?

A participle (in German: Partizip) is a non-finite verb form that occupies an intermediate position between verb and adjective. It offers several possibilities of usage, whereas the most common one is as an adjective or adverb. Similar to English, German grammar distinguishes between the first, the Partizip Präsens (present participle), and the second one, the Partizip Perfekt (past participle). Compare the following list:

  • Participles may appear in different functions. Here some example sentences that illustrate them:
    • The Partizip Präsens (present participle) frequently occurs as an adjective:
      • „Kannst du die singende Amsel hören?“ (Can you hear the blackbird singing?)
        • Here, the participle constitutes an adjective taking the role as a premodifier.
      • Kommenden Sonntag feiere ich Geburtstag.“ (Next Sunday, I’m celebrating my birthday.)
        • Again, the adjective serves as a premodifier.
    • The Partizip Perfekt (past participle) is regularly required for constructing the compound tenses and the passive voice:
      • „Gestern haben wir im Baumarkt eingekauft.“ (Yesterday, we went shopping at the hardware store.)
        • The German Perfekt (perfect tense) consisting of an auxiliary and main verb.
      • „Er hatte sehr lange gesprochen.“ (He had spoken for a very long time.)
        • Plusquamperfekt (past perfect tense)
      • „Es wurde bereits dreimal dort eingebrochen.“ (It has already been broken into three times.)
        • This participle is part of the passive voice construction.
      • „Die Karte wird automatisch gelesen.“ (The card is read automatically.)
        • passive voice

How are the participles formed?

The formation of the German participles follows simple rules, which are in detail:

  • The Partizip Präsens (present participle) is always formed by appending ‘-d’ to the infinitive of the verb:
    • trinken → trinkend (drink, drinking)
    • sehen → sehend (see, seeing)
  • Forming the Partizip Perfekt (past participle) differs for strong and weak verbs. If the verb already has a prefix (e.g., erreichen, verfahren’), this does not change; otherwise, ‘ge-’ is prefixed according to the rule:
    • Strong verbs get the suffix ‘-en’:
      • fahren → gefahren (drive, driven)
      • schreiben → geschrieben (write, written)
    • Weak verbs receive the ending ‘-t’ or ‘-et’:
      • putzen → geputzt (clean, cleaned)
      • können → gekonnt (can, could)
      • öffnen → geöffnet (open, opened)
      • zerrütten → zerrüttet (shatter, shattered)
    • Verbs with already existing prefixes keep them:
      • verfluchen → verflucht (curse, cursed)
      • zerreißen → zerrissen (rip, ripped)

Further explanations referring to the ‘German participles’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘The participles of present and past tense in German grammar’ and could also be interesting: