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Past Participles

When a verb phrase consists of the auxiliary verb have and a lexical verb, the lexical verb takes the form of a past participle.

  • I have finished my homework now.
  • Why have the directors rejected my proposals?
  • He has told that story many times before.
  • I had already written sixteen letters that evening.
  • Have you seen the Harry Potter film yet?
  • The washing machine has broken down.

Most past participles are formed by adding -ed to the base form of the verb (or simply -d if the verb ends in e):

  • We must have walked for miles before we found the path again.
  • Why haven’t you asked Tim to help you?
  • He has offered to lend us a hand.
  • The horse had jumped over the fence and galloped away.
  • You should have seized the opportunity when you had it.

However, there are past participles that take a wide variety of different forms:

  • sell — sold
  • sleep — slept
  • dig — dug
  • catch — caught
  • sing — sung
  • write — written
  • go — gone
  • find — found
  • leave — left
  • strike — struck
  • fly — flown
  • stand — stood
  • hit — hit
  • cut — cut

Uses of the Past Participle

The auxiliary verb have and the past participles of lexical verbs are used to form what are known as perfect tenses. Perfect tenses may be used to describe actions or states that begin in the past and continue through to the present or the future:

  • have been here since last January. (and I am still here now)
  • France has produced many famous artists. (and may do so again in the future)

Perfect tenses may describe something that has happened, perhaps more than once, at some time or another in the past:

  • have been to China a few times.
  • have often wondered what she is doing now.
  • It has rained every day for the past fortnight.
  • Someone has stolen my coat!

With the past tense of have, the past participle of a lexical verb describes something that happened before something else that is described by a past tense:

  • When he had finished cleaning the cupboards, he started sweeping the floors.
  • had just got into the house when the phone rang.

Like present participles, past participles may be used in sentences without an accompanying auxiliary verb:

  • Blown over by the wind, the lorry was lying upside down in a ditch.
  • Frightened by the loud noise, the baby began to cry.
  • Bought for only a few dollars, the painting turned out to be priceless.
  • The company, alerted to the problems in the petrol tank, immediately withdrew the car from showrooms.

Again like present participles, many past participles can be used as adjectives:

  • broken promise
  • written report
  • closed door
  • hidden treasure
  • raised flower-bed
  • torn shirt

Notice that some past participle adjectives describe what someone or something has done, while others describe what has been done to someone or something. For example:

  • fallen tree Is a tree which has fallen down.
  • swollen ankle Is an ankle which has swollen.


  • stolen car is a car which has been stolen.
  • broken vase is a vase that has been broken by someone.

Where a verb has two forms of the past participle, it is generally the form that does not end in -ed that is used as an adjective:

  • burnt toast
  • spilt milk
  • sawn timber
  • spoilt child

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