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What Is a Participle?

By Deneatra Harmon
Updated May 17, 2024
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In grammar, a participle is a verb form or verbal that acts as an adjective. It can be classified as a verbal or verb form because it expresses action or a present state. While the participle is based on a verb, it functions as an adjective because it modifies a noun or a pronoun in a sentence. It may be written or expressed in the present or past. A participle may also be written as part of the sentence known as a participial phrase.

A present participle is a word that ends in “-ing.” Sentences in this case often incorporate the helping verb “to be” to indicate current action. Some examples include, “I am walking on the boardwalk,” or “She is sleeping.” Occasionally, a present form that ends with “ing” takes on the adjective role to describe or modify a noun or pronoun in a sentence. Examples of this instance can include, “The barking dog disturbed the neighbors,” or “The winning team played a great game.”

By contrast, a past participle is a word that ends in “-ed,” “-en,” or “-ne,” as well as “-d,” “-n,” or “-t.” Sentences that include the past tense of the verbal indicate a past or completed action. Some sentences written in the past form can include, “I have studied Spanish,” or “He fixed the broken chair arm.” Other examples include, “The company sent the check in the mail,” or “She had already gone to the store.”

The verbal may also be written in the form of a phrase. A participial phrase consists of the present or past form of the verbal, plus any modifiers, complements, as well as objects and direct objects of the state of being or action expressed in the participle. For example, in the sentence, “Lynn noticed the deer roaming around the park,” the participial phrase “roaming around the park” acts as an adjective that modifies the deer. In another sentence, “Having eaten all of his vegetables, he prepared for dessert,” the phrase “having eaten all of his vegetables” works as an adjective that modifies the pronoun “he.”

In a sentence, the participle as well as the participial phrase must be written as close to the noun or pronoun as possible for clarity and to avoid a dangling modifier. A sentence with such an error leaves out the noun or pronoun, therefore leaving the modifier hanging or "dangling." The noun or pronoun must be clearly identified as the subject of the main clause in the sentence so that the participle can easily refer to it. In the sentence, "Running through the field, he tripped over a large rock," the main clause states that the person — he — committed the action mentioned in the modifying phrase — Running through the field.

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