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participle, participle phrase

A participle is a type of verbal—a verb form that looks like a verb but does not act as the verb in a sentence.

A participle acts as an adjective to modify a noun or pronoun.

Present participles end in -ing:

  • a singing bird
  • running water

Past participles of regular verbs end in -ed:

  • a carved totem pole
  • fossilized dinosaur eggs

Past participles of irregular verbs end in -en, -n, -t or various other endings:

  • the hidden passage
  • some torn pages
  • bent pins
  • a well-done steak
  • ground pork
  • a carefully made tapestry

Note: A participle can act as a verb if it is joined with a helping (or auxiliary) verb to form a verb phrase: is reading, had hoped, have gone. But by itself, the participle acts as an adjective.

The participle phrase

A participle phrase is a participle with attached words. Because a participle is formed from a verb, it retains some of the properties of a verb, so it can take an object:

  • Hearing the shouts, I swung around.
    [The noun shouts is the object of the participle hearing.]

Like a verb, a participle can also be modified by an adverb or a prepositional phrase:

  • The snow drifting deeply over the fields covered the deer’s tracks.
    [The adverb deeply and the phrase over the fields modify the participle drifting.]

A participle with one or more objects or modifiers forms a participle phrase. In the examples above, hearing the shouts and drifting deeply over the fields are participle phrases.

In the examples below, the present and past participle phrases modify the words in bold font:

  • The dog eating the geraniums belongs to my neighbour.
  • Peering at the map, I tried to find the street name.
  • Wrapped in foil paper, the parcels gleamed in the firelight.
  • Have you read this novel written by Rohinton Mistry?
  • Trees blown down by the wind blocked the road.
  • My aunt lives in a stone cottage built by my great-grandfather.
  • I traced this cousin through an address found on the Internet.

Other participle forms

We can put a participle into the past to show action that occurred before another action:

  • Having forgotten my wallet, I borrowed some money from my friends.
    [The forgetting happened before the borrowing.]

Also, a participle can be used in the passive voice:

  • The figure skater being interviewed is Canadian.
  • Having been warned of the danger, the hikers took another route.