A present participle is a verb in the “-ing” form. It can be used in three ways:

  1. With the auxiliary verb to be. Example: I am explaining the use of the present participle.
  2. As an adjective. Example: The grueling workout exhausted me.
  3. In a phrase. Example: Boarding the bus, the passenger tripped and fell. (“Boarding the bus” is a phrase that describes the passenger.)

The “-ing” form of a verb is called a gerund when it functions as a noun. As a noun, the gerund can be a subject, direct or indirect object, or an object of a preposition. It is important to be able to distinguish between a gerund and a present participle in English because often the form of a gerund in another language will differ from that of the present participle. Here are some examples of gerunds:

  • I’m thinking about going to the concert. (thinking = present participle; going=gerund, object of the preposition “about”)
  • Reading is my favorite hobby. (reading = subject)
  • She likes singing so much. (singing = direct object)

A past participle is a verb form that follows an auxiliary verb. Past participles take many forms: written, said, cooked, gone, been, etc. Here are some contextualized examples with the auxiliary verbs to have and to be:

  • I have been to Germany many times. (Present perfect)
  • The class already had studied the material. (Past perfect)
  • I had learned to ski, but now I have forgotten everything I knew. (Past perfect and present perfect)
  • They say that history is written by the winners. (Passive voice with to be)
  • What time will the work be done? (Passive voice with to be)

Lastly, the past participle can also be used as an adjective:

  • The confused man walked the wrong way.
  • She will eat cooked green beans, but not raw ones.
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Last revised on November 15, 2017.