Functions of the Past Participle

Once you are able to recognize the Past Participle by its form, we can move on to its functions, i.e. the work it does in sentences. Some of its functions are similar to those of the Present Participle and some are different.

Here Are the Functions along with Examples...

1. Perfect Tenses

In perfect tenses, the past participle is part of the finite verb phrase, as in...

has sung
had sung
will have sung
has been sung
had been sung
will have been sung

2. Passive Voice

In all the passive voice forms of finite verb phrases, the past participle is the main verb...

is sung
was sung
will be sung
is being sung
was being sung
has been sung
had been sung
will have been sung

3. As Participial Adjectives

Past participles too behave like adjectives (participial adjectives) in the same way as the present participles do...

healed person
written instructions
trained teacher
beaten path
risen sun
fallen angels

4. Usually Has a Passive Meaning, but Can Have an Active Meaning Sometimes...

Examples Showing Passive Meanings

In the four examples on the left column of the table above, please note:

  • the healed person is not doing the healing;
  • the instructions are not doing the writing;
  • the teacher is trained by somebody else;
  • the path does not beat itself for people beat (create) the path by regularly walking there.

So each past participle in these examples has a passive meaning.

Examples Showing Active Meanings

But less frequently, you can find past participles with active meanings...
as in the two examples in the right column above...

  • risen sun, where the sun does the rising;
  • fallen angels, where the angels fell.

The verbs rise and fall, from which risen and fallen are formed, are both intransitive; so, rising and falling cannot be done to the sun or the angels.

5. Acts like a Verb

Like the present participle, the past participle too can function as the head of a participial phrase. What we mean by this is that just like any verb, the past participle can have an object and can be modified by modifiers.

See this example:

  • Lovingly taught English by her father, she eventually became a fine writer.

In this sentence, the word English is the object and the adverb lovingly modifies the past participle taught, which is the head of the participial phrase 'lovingly taught English by her father'.

6. Acts as an Adjective

Like the present participle, the past participle shares the nature of an adjective, in that it can be modified by a degree modifier.

  • Fully healed of his own bad memories, he went on to become an outstanding counsellor.

In the participial phrase 'fully healed of his own bad memories', the past participle healedis modified by the degree modifier fully.

The Use of the Past Participle

The meaning which this participle conveys is of an action-based description, where the action is completed action.

  • risen sun - the rising activity of the sun is complete

  • broken glass - the glass is not breaking at the moment of speaking; the breaking activity is complete before that.

Summing Up...

This and the previous page on the past participle have together shown you:

  1. its word-forms
  2. its functions in sentences,
  3. the meanings it conveys.

page 1 | page 2

For Further Reading and Study...

Related Pages

The Study of Verbals



The Study of Participles

What is a Participle?

Present Participle

Past Participle - Forms

Past Participle - Functions

For the Study of Verbs