Glossary: participle

Explanation

Verbs in English have two participles, called present participle (e.g. walking, taking) and past participle (e.g. walked, taken).

Unfortunately, these terms can be confusing to learners, because:

  • they don’t necessarily have anything to do with present or past time
  • although past participles are used as perfects (e.g. has eaten) they are also used as passives (e.g. was eaten).
  • He is walking to school. [present participle in a progressive]
  • He has taken the bus to school. [past participle in a perfect]
  • The photo was taken in the rain. [past participle in a passive]

The present participle is sometimes called the -ing participle or gerund participle. The past participle is also called the -ed participle. A present participle clause (also called an -ing-clause) is a clause with a present participle as its main verb. Example:

  • Chewing on a sandwich, Pete tried to make a phone call at the same time.

A past participle clause (also called an -ed clause) is a clause with a past participle as its main verb. Example:

  • Kate flung herself onto the sofa, exhausted by a long day's work.

Nonfinite clauses in literature

In this activity, students look at how nonfinite clauses might be used in their own writing and that of others to vary the structure of a text. On one level, this is about creating something that people like to read: something that is interesting, varied and engaging and designed to hook the reader or suit the style you are hoping to adopt. On another level, it’s about students showing teachers and examiners that they know about different forms and can use them in their writing.

Past participles in composition

This activity involves working with nonfinite clauses to do some sentence-splitting and sentence-joining. The purpose is to develop your awareness of the different kinds of structures that are available to you as a writer.

Past participles in composition: Activity 1

His report, published yesterday, demands fundamental changes in the way safety is regulated in the North Sea. →

His report was published yesterday. It demands fundamental changes in the way safety is regulated in the North Sea.

Invented in the late sixties, the melotron used a complicated system of loop tape recordings to achieve an effect similar to sampling. →

Past participles in composition: Activity 2

Beckett’s early work was written in English over the period from 1929 to 1938. It seems restless, nomadic. →

Written in English over the period from 1929 to 1938, Beckett’s early work seems restless, nomadic.

The electromagnetic bell was patented in 1878 by Thomas Watson. It is rugged, reliable and loud enough to be heard from some appreciable distance. →

Present participles in composition

This activity involves working with nonfinite clauses to do some sentence-splitting and sentence-joining. The purpose is to develop your awareness of the different kinds of structures that are available to you as a writer.

Present participles in composition: Activity 1

Returning to the area after the War, Pissaro largely retained the same fiction about Louveciennes. →

Pissaro returned to the area after the War. He largely retained the same fiction about Louveciennes.

Having fallen completely from view since May, he finds another window suddenly beckoning. →

Present participles in composition: Activity 2

I arrived just before lunch. I looked for Harry Frampton in the dining room. →

Arriving just before lunch, I looked for Harry Frampton in the dining room.

The ZR-1 looked little different from the normal Corvette. It performed like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. →

Verbs: Nonfinite and finite

Verbs can be divided into finite and nonfinite forms. Finite verbs carry tense. So, past and present tense verb forms are finite. Nonfinite verbs do not carry tense, and do not show agreement with a Subject. Put differently, they are not 'limited' by tense or agreement.

The infinitive form of a verb is nonfinite. It is the form which follows to:

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