English Grammar Test Series: The Participle

Articles, Pronouns

English Grammar Series: THE PARTICIPLE

Read this sentence:

  • Hearing the noise, the boy woke up.

The word hearing qualifies the noun boy as an Adjective does. It is formed from the Verb hear, and governs an object.

The word hearing, therefore, partakes of the nature of both a Verb and an Adjective, and is called a Participle. It may be called a Verbal Adjective.

Definition: A participle is that form of the Verb which partakes of the nature both of a Verb and of an Adjective. [Or] A participle is a word which is partly a Verb and partly an adjective.

Note. – The phrase ‘Hearing the noise’, which is introduced by a Principle, is called a Participle Phrase. According to its use here, it is an Adjective Phrase.

Study the following examples of Participles:

  • We met a girl carrying a basket of flowers.
  • Loudly knocking at the gate, he demanded admission.
  • The child, thinking all was safe, attempted to cross the road.
  • He rushed into the field, and foremost fighting fell.

The above are all examples of what is usually called the Present Participle which ends in -ing and represents an action as going on or incomplete or imperfect.

  • If the verb from which it comes is Transitive, it takes an object, as in sentence 1.
  • Notice also that in sentence 2, the Participle is modified by an adverb.

Besides the Present Participle, we can form from each verb another Participle called its Past Participle, which represents a completed action or state of the thing spoken of. The following are examples of Past Participles:

  • Blinded by a dust storm, they fell into disorder.
  • Deceived by his friends, he lost all hope.
  • Time misspent is lime lost.
  • Driven by hunger, he stole a piece of bread.
  • We saw a few trees laden with fruit.

It will be noticed that the Past Participle usually ends in -ed, -d, -t, -en, or -n. Besides these two simple participles, the Present and the Past, we have what is called a Perfect Participle that represents an action as completed at some past time; as, Having rested, we continued our journey.

In the following examples the Participles are used as simple qualifying adjectives in front of a noun; thus used they are called Participle Adjectives:

  • A rolling stone gathers no moss.
  • We had a drink of the sparkling water.
  • His tattered coat needs mending.
  • The creaking door awakened the dog.
  • A lying witness ought to be punished.
  • He played a losing game.
  • A burnt child dreads the fire.
  • His finished manners produced a very favourable impression.
  • He wears a worried look.
  • Education is the most pressing need of our country.
  • He was reputed to be the most learned man of his- time.

Used adjectivally the past participle is Passive in meaning, while the Present Participle is Active in meaning; as,

  • a spent swimmer = a swimmer who is tired out;
  • a burnt child = a child who is burnt;
  • a painted doll = a doll which is painted;
  • a rolling stone = a stone which rolls.

Let us now recapitulate what we have already learnt about the Participle.

(1) A participle is a Verbal Adjective.
(2) Like a Verb it may govern a noun or pronoun; as, Hearing the noise, the boy woke up. [The noun noise is governed by the participle Hearing].
(3) Like a Verb it may be modified by an adverb; as Loudly knocking at the gate, he demanded admission. [Here the participle knocking is modified by the adverb Loudly,]
(4) Like an adjective it may qualify a noun or pronoun; as, Having rested, the men continued their journey.
(5) Like an Adjective it may be compared; as, Education is the most pressing need of our time. [Here the participle pressing is compared by prefixing most.]

Below are shown the forms of the different Participles:

  • Present: loving
  • Perfect: having loved


  • Present: being loved.
  • Perfect: having been loved.
  • Past: loved.

Use of the Participle

It will be noticed that the Continuous Tenses (Active Voice) are formed from the Present Participle with tenses of the verb be; as,

  • I am loving.
  • I was loving.
  • I shall be loving.

The Perfect Tenses (Active Voice) are formed from the Past Participle with tenses of the verb have; as,

  • I have loved.
  • I had loved.
  • I shall have loved.

The Passive Voice is formed from the Past Participle with tenses of the verb be; as,

  • I am loved.
  • I was loved.
  • I shall be loved.

We have seen that Participles qualify nouns or pronouns. They may be used-

(1) Attributively; as,

  • A rolling stone gathers no moss.
  • His tattered coat needs mending.
  • A lost opportunity never returns.

(2) Predicatively; as,

  • The man seems worried. (Modifying the Subject)
  • He kept me waiting. (Modifying the Object.)

(3) Absolutely with a noun or pronoun going before; as,

  • The weather being fine, I went out.
  • Many having arrived, we were freed from anxiety.
  • Weather permitting, there will be a garden party at Government House tomorrow.
  • God willing, we shall have another good monsoon.
  • The sea being smooth, we went for sail.
  • The wind having failed, the crew set to work with a will.
  • His master being absent, the business was neglected.
  • The wind being favourable, they embarked.

It will be seen that in each of the above sentences the Participle with the noun or pronoun going before it, forms a phrase independent of the rest of the sentence. Such a phrase is called an Absolute Phrase; and a noun or pronoun so used with a participle is called a Nominative Absolute.

An Absolute Phrase can be easily changed into a subordinate clause; as,
Spring advancing, the swallows appear. [When spring advances. -Clause of Time.]
The sea being smooth, we went for a sail. [Because the sea was smooth. – Clause of Reason.]

  • God willing, we shall meet again. [If God is willing. – Clause of Condition.]

Errors in the Use of Participles
Since the participle is a verb-adjective it must be attached to some noun or pronoun; in other words, it must always have a proper ‘subject of reference’.
The following sentences are incorrect because in each case the Participle is left without proper agreement:
1. Standing at the gate, a scorpion stung him. (As it is, the sentence reads as if the scorpion was standing at the gate.)
2. Going up the hill, an old temple was seen.
3. Entering the room, the light was quite dazzling.

We should, therefore, recast these sentences as shown below:
1. Standing at the gate, he was stung by a scorpion. Or: While he was standing at the gate, a scorpion stung him.
2. When we went up the hill, we saw an old temple.
3. Entering the room, I found the light quite dazzling. Or: When I entered the room, the light was quite dazzling.

Usage, however, permits in certain cases such constructions as the following where the participle is left without a proper ‘subject of references. [The Participle in such cases is called an Impersonal Absolute].

  • Taking everything into consideration, the Magistrate was perfectly justified in issuing those orders.
  • Considering his abilities, he should have done better.
  • Roughly speaking, the distance from here to the nearest railway station is two miles.
  • It will be noticed that in the above instances the unexpressed subject is indefinite.
  • Thus, ‘Roughly speaking’ = If one speaks roughly.

Sometimes, as in the following examples, the Participle is understood:

  • Sword (being) in hand, he rushed on the jailor.
  • Breakfast (having been) over, we went out for a walk.
  • English Grammar Test Series Quick Links:

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    Quiz 2 Quiz 7 Quiz 12
    Quiz 3 Quiz 8 Quiz 13
    Quiz 4 Quiz 9 Quiz 14
    Quiz 5 Quiz 10 Quiz 15
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