Understood! The Full Guide to Past Participles in English

A comprehensive guide to understanding the English past participle, with examples, sentences in context and a list of irregular past participles.

Start learning now

I want to learn...

By Chiara Pegoraro · June 13, 2024 · 8 minute read

You’ve probably encountered the past participle countless times without even realizing it. In fact, there was one in the previous sentence (encountered).

Sometimes, however, while you can use a grammar structure without knowing the ins and outs of it, a good understanding of the grammar means you’ll be able to communicate even more effectively. It will help you improve your understanding, enhance your oral and written communication skills and – why not? – give you a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the English language.

Most of the time we use past participles without even thinking about the grammar structure. This article will help you understand all there is to know about past participles, including past participle verbs, adjectives, and phrases.

What is a past participle?

A past participle is one form of a verb and refers to the past. For many verbs, the past participle ends in -ed, although there are plenty of exceptions. (The past participle is not to be confused with the present participle, which ends in -ing. Learn more in our article about the English present participle.)

The past participle is used to form past and passive tenses. It is a very flexible structure because many times it can double as an adjective and come to define a specific quality of something, like ‘a lost cause’ or a ‘written speech.’

Let’s continue with an explanation of the most common use of the past participle, which is to form some verb tenses.

Past participle -ed ending and pronunciation

Like most English verb forms, forming the past participle is very simple. Start with the base form of a verb (for example, walk, study, start) and then add an -ed ending to it (walked, studied, started). This form, the one used for ‘regular’ verbs, will be identical to the simple past form of the verb.

Although past participles ending with -ed are always written the same way, the pronunciation can differ in three ways, based on the last sound of the verb:

  • Verbs ending with the sound t or d: Add another syllable with the sound /ed/.
    Example: ‘Lift’ becomes ‘lifted’ and is pronounced /lift-ed/.

  • Verbs ending with a k, p, s, ch, sh, f, or x sound: Make a t sound at the end.
    Example: ‘Pass’ becomes ‘passed’ and is pronounced /past/.

  • Verbs ending in other consonant sounds (b, g, j, l, m, n, r, v, z) or a vowel sound: Make a d sound at the end.
    Example: ‘Live’ becomes ‘lived’ and is pronounced /livd/.

The table below shows more examples.

Pronunciation of -ed forms

/id/ /d/ /t/
treated stayed walked
decided called helped
visited lived missed
invited traveled worked
needed enjoyed jumped

Irregular past participle forms

If this seems quite easy, don’t you worry – there are plenty of irregular forms to make things a bit more difficult! Jokes aside, take a look at the table below and then we will explain why it shouldn’t be very scary.

Most common irregular past participles

Verb Past tense form Past participle
be was or were been
begin began begun
come came come
do did done
eat ate eaten
feel felt felt
go went gone
have had had
know knew known
lose lost lost
make made made
put put put
run ran run
say said said
tell told told
understand understood understood
wear wore worn

Yes, that is a lot of irregular verbs – there’s no point in denying it. Before you panic, though, let’s look at the bright side.

In this list we included both the simple past and the past participle because in most English courses these two forms are taught at the same time. That of course makes a lot of sense because, as you can see from the table, in many cases they have the same form. Let’s look at a few examples in context:

  • Simple past: She finished her homework before dinner.

  • Present perfect: She has already finished her homework.

  • Simple past: We ate breakfast at 8am.

  • Present perfect: We have already eaten breakfast.

As you can see, the past participle is part of the present perfect, which we use to talk about something we have recently finished. Keep this in mind because this is definitely one of its most common uses.

Common mistakes

The list we have seen above might also help you avoid a very common mistake among English learners. You might have noticed that the forms of the past tense (second column) and the past participle (third column) are often the same, yet they are not always the same.

In fact, a common mistake is to mix these two when trying to make a present perfect verb. Let’s see a few examples.

  • Incorrect: He has went to school.
  • Correct: He has gone to school.
  • Incorrect: I haven’t spoke with him yet.
  • Correct: I haven’t spoken with him yet.

You see the difference? However, with regular and even with some irregular verbs it’s easy not to notice this because the two forms are actually identical, as in the following examples:

  • Past simple: I told him that.
  • Present perfect: I haven’t told him that yet.
  • Past simple: I won the game.
  • Present perfect: I haven’t won the game yet.

So, remember that there are several irregular verbs that will need a little extra attention when constructing a sentence in present perfect.

Have you begun your English learning plan?

Don’t wait to have the perfect conditions to start working on your English. If you’re reading this, that means learning English is important to you, and there’s no better time to start than today. Busuu can get you started on a personalized plan where you can get as much – or as little – practice as you wish. Don’t delay, start your language learning journey now!

When do we use the past participle?

Now that everything is clear on past participle forms, we should really talk about the uses of the past participle. We have already said that it is a flexible structure, so let’s see it in action!

Verbs with a past participle

The past participle is a component of the perfect tenses (present perfect, past perfect, future perfect), which indicate completed actions.

  • Present perfect: She has finished her homework.
  • Past perfect: She had finished her homework before dinner.
  • Future perfect: She will have finished her homework by the time dinner is ready.

Passive voice

In the passive voice, the past participle is always a key component, indicating an action that has been done to the subject.

  • “Romeo and Juliet” was written by Shakespeare.
  • The suspect will be questioned by the police.

As an adjective

The past participle is also used to form adjectives. Participles are often used to describe people’s feelings, but there are plenty of participles that describe qualities of objects as well.

  • A bored student
  • A concerned parent
  • A broken vase
  • A lesser-known fact
  • A case of mistaken identity
  • A worn pair of shoes

Past participle phrases

Past participles can form whole phrases that add information to a sentence, often providing a cause or a result. The past participle given is often used to introduce a condition that explains or gives a reason for the main action in the sentence.

  • Known for its bustling nightlife, London attracts lots of young visitors.
  • Tired from the long journey, Tim showered and went straight to bed.
  • Given the circumstances, we decided to postpone our wedding.

Wrapping up

The past participle is an essential structure of the English language used to construct perfect tenses, passive voice and some adjectives.

Forming the past participle from a regular verb is really straightforward – just add -ed to the base form of the verb. Irregular verbs can present a bigger challenge and require memorization, but with exposure to everyday language and some practice, they will become very familiar. (The lucky thing about irregular English verbs is that most of them are used very frequently, so you will hear them a lot). Past participles can also introduce whole phrases that add context to a main clause.

Don’t you worry about exploring this flexible bit of grammar – as we have shown in this article, it is more common than you might think and has many uses. For arriving at this point you deserve a heartfelt “Well done!” and… wait, was that a past participle too?

Ready for more?

Keep up the good work and get started today on Busuu’s free English course, with all the lessons you will need in grammar, vocabulary and communication. Get started today, build your learning routine and achieve amazing results in no time. Happy learning!