Participles – how to understand them

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Participles – definition

participles The term participles refers to the lexical component of the verb or the part which conveys the information or meaning.

redbtn Participles can express the present tense as in swimming or the past as in swam.



jumping thinking being
rowing considering maintaining


ran came went was
thought made helped socialised


redbtn Participles are usually used along with pronouns as verbs, but they are also used as adjectives as in The Killing Fields and The Hanging Gardens.

redbtn Participles can be used also as nouns as in ‘the cleaning’, ‘the washing’, or The Shining [film title].

redbtn NB! Speaking, listening, reading, and writing add up to communicating.

redbtn The term ‘participle’ is a technical grammatical term. It is useful to be able to identify this portion of the verb.

redbtn A verb is usually referred to in its infinitive form, with the prefix ‘to’ — as in:

to learn to be to have
to walk to converse to seem

redbtn An alternative form of reference to a given verb is to express it as a participle:

running walking sitting
wondering scribbling seeming

redbtn The participle has been very adaptable in creating new terms recently. This is particularly true in the USA, where Americans seem to have a more flexible and pragmatic approach to linguistic creativity than the British — who are perhaps inhibited by notions of traditional restraint where language development is concerned.

redbtn The scope of the noun ‘parent’ has been extended to include a verb form, and the participle is the most common form of this. Parenting is now the title of a magazine, and the activity is often referred to as ‘parenting’. However, we do not often hear other forms of the verb used — as in ‘I parented two children’ or ‘I have learnt to parent my child’.

redbtn The phrase ‘the reason being’ contains the participle form of the verb ‘to be’. This phrase seems to have recently become idiomatic. That is, it has become a compound or stock phrase which speakers find useful when expressing cause and effect, especially in speech.

redbtn Often a speaker will use the idiom as in the utterance: ‘The reason being is that I don’t like driving late at night’. In a mechanical sense, the participle ‘being’ has been substituted for ‘is’ in the conventionally grammatical utterance ‘The reason is that I don’t like driving late at night’.

redbtn The result is ungrammatical, but it is quite possible that this deviant form could become Standard English if enough speakers adopted it into their everyday repertoire. [But let’s hope not!]

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2003

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