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Verb Forms and Verb Tenses: Verb Forms and Verb Tenses (#10): Past Participles

Dennis Oliver
Verb Forms and Verb Tenses (#10):

Past Participles

English verbs have five basic forms: the base, - S, -ing, past,
and past participle forms.

The past participles for regular verbs are the same as their
past forms (look-looked-
looked and study-studied-studied), 
for example. For irregular verbs, the past and past participle
forms are different (for example, be- was/were-
been and

The past participle is commonly used in several situations:


Past participles are used as part of the present and
past perfect tenses (both "regular" and continuous).

The non-continuous present perfect tense uses has
or have + the 
past participle; the present perfect
continuous tense uses has or have + 
been (the past
participle of BE) + the ing form of the main verb.


He has (He's) taken a vacation. /
He has (He's) been taking a vacation.

I have (I've) taken my medicine.
I have (I've) been taking that medicine for three days.

The non-continuous past perfect tense uses had +
past participle; the past perfect continuous
tense uses had + been + the - ing form of the
main verb.


She had (She'd) lived here for 10 years
when I met her.

She had (She'd) been living here for 10 years
when I met her.

He had (He'd) waited a long time before he left.

He had (He'd) been waiting a long time before he left.


Past participles are also used to make one of the
past forms for the 
modal verbs (modal auxiliaries).
These forms use a modal + have + the past participle.


could have gone
may have been
should have known
might have seen
would have written
must have forgotten


Another use for past participles is as participial
adjectives (verb forms used as adjectives).

Participial adjectives may be used both singly
and in phrases.


We were bored / excited / interested.

We were bored with / excited about / interested in
the movie.

It's broken / gone / done.

It's broken into two pieces / gone from where
I usually put it / done by machine, not by hand.

Abandoned, he didn't know what to do.

Abandoned by everyone he had considered to be
his friends, he didn't know what to do.


One more use of past participles is in making the
past form of 
infinitives (to + the base form).


to be / to have been;
to live / to have lived;
to go / to have gone;
to have / to have had.


Special Notes:


In the "modal perfect" tenses, the modal auxiliary
have are usually contracted in spoken English
(though this is not as common in written English):

could have --> could've; 
may have --> may've; 
might have --> might've;
must have --> must've; 
should have --> should've; 
would have --> would've

When 've is spoken quickly in casual conversation,
the sound changes to something like "a" (the second
vowel sound in "sofa"). The common word "of" is
pronounced the same way in quick, casual speech.
Because of this, people sometimes write wrong forms
such as *could of, *may of, *might of, etc.


Both - ing forms (present participles) and past
participles are used as 
adjectives (for example,
boring / bored and exciting / excited), butthe
meanings are not the same:

He's boring = He bores someone.

He's bored = Something (or someone) bores him.

They're exciting = They excite someone.

They're excited = Something (someone) excites him.


The past infinitive is not very common except in
very formal writing or when it is important to
show two different times:

Tennyson: "'Tis better to have loved and lost than
not to have loved at all." (This is formal language.
Also, the poet makes a contrast between now--
"'Tis better" [It is better]--and the past--"to have
loved and lost" [loving and losing were in the past].)

I'm sorry to disappoinyou. / I'm sorry to
have disappointed you. (In the first sentence,
"be sorry" and "disappoint" are both present, but
in the second sentence "be sorry" is present and
"disappoint" is past.)

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