Use Past Participles The Right Way (25 examples + PDF list)

Over the last 15 years, I have been asked many great questions by my private and group lessons students. Here is a common one. “How do you use the English past participle?“

The past participle is a verb tense used with the Passive voice (was broken), the Perfect Tense (has broken), and sometimes used as an adjective (my phone is broken).
Verbs that have a regular past tense form ending with _ed will use the same form for the past participle.

Past Participle examples

Let me explain the past participle English grammar with some other verbs and more examples.

We will start with a common example that you’ve probably heard before, eaten. (This is the past participle of the verb TO EAT.)

Present tensePast tensePast participle
eatateeaten
  • I eat pizza twice a month.
  • I ate pizza yesterday.
  • I haven’t eaten pizza in 3 months..

This sentence is the Passive voice. (was already eaten.)

The Past participle is also used with the Present perfect tense. The Present perfect tense uses the past participle with the auxiliary (helper) verb HAS/HAVE.

  • I like to eat interesting food. I ate alligator in Sao Paulo Brazil, but I HAVE never eaten whale.

*In this sentence, the nouns alligator and whale are talking about the animal’s meat, not the animal itself. An animal is a countable noun but its meat is not.
– We can count chickens, they have a plural form and must be used with an article when we talk about a single chicken.

  • My grandfather had 9 chickens on his farm. (Animal: countable)

If we talked about chicken as meat, it is not countable. it doesn’t take an article and it doesn’t have a plural form. 

  • We had chicken for dinner last night. (Meat: uncountable)

The verb to go

Present tensePast tensePast participle
gowentgone

Dennis: “I’m gonna go to the store. Does anybody need anything?”
Derrick: “We need milk but I went to the store an hour ago and they are sold out.”
Dylan: “Has Dennis gone yet? We need more rice.”

The verb TO GO can also be used in the perfect tense with BEEN.

TO GO past participle – GONE vs. BEEN

Been is the past participle of the verb TO BE.

Present tensePast tensePast participle
is, am, arewas, werebeen

Been is used as the past participle of GO when somebody has gone somewhere and come back. (This is very common.)

  • I want to go back to Sao Paulo, Brazil one day. Have you ever been there?
    (This is asking, have you gone to Sao Paulo before?)

We are not in Brazil now, so if the person has visited Sao Paulo in the past they have already come back. (Of course!) – Gone somewhere and come back.

Compare BEEN with GONE

  • Jessie isn’t here now. He HAS gone to work.

*Jessie is not in the place where the people are speaking.
The Past participle verb form can be used as an adjective. When GONE is used as an adjective it can be used with people or things.

A: Is Jerry here?
B: No, he was gone before I arrived.
(Jerry is away from this place.)

A: Can I have a coffee, please?
B: Sorry, the coffee is all gone.
(The coffee is used up. There is none left.)

Sometimes the past participle and the past tense are the same. For example, the past tense and the past participle of the verb TO BUY is bought.

Present tensePast tensePast participle
buyboughtbought
  • Have you ever bought something expensive and then felt bad about it after?
Past Participle bought

Past participle vs Past tense

How can I tell the difference between the simple past and the past participle? We can tell the difference by looking at the words used in the sentences. 
Simple past tense will follow the subject of the sentence. The past participle will follow the verb TO BE in the Passive Voice or the verb TO HAVE in the Perfect tense.

  • Mark Twain was an American writer. He lived from 1835 to 1910. He wrote many popular books and traveled across Europe and America. 

    (Mark Twain is the subject of these sentences. The verbs in the story are all the simple past tense.)

These examples come directly from my past tense verb blog post. English Verbs – Past tense (Learn 18 irregular verbs)

More Past tense examples

  • I sprayed my mask with some bacteria killer after I wore it. Now I can use it again.
  • Simon bought a new computer yesterday.
  • We played soccer on Friday and we won!

    *sprayed, wore, bought, played, and won are all verbs in the past tense. All the verbs follow a subject.

A simple trick to using past participle correctly

The past participle will sound unusual if it directly follows a subject.

Present tensePast tensePast participle
taketooktaken
  • Jeremy taken two muffins. (Incorrect)
  • Jeremy took two muffins. (Correct)

Simple past tense will also sound strange if it follows the verb TO BE (Passive Voice) or the verb TO HAVE (Perfect Tense).

  • Jeremy has took two muffins. (Incorrect)
  • Two muffins were took from the table. (Incorrect)
  • Jeremy has taken two muffins. (Correct)
  • Two muffins were taken from the table. (Correct)

Past Participle Adjective Vs. Passive voice

Past participle verbs will follow the verb TO BE with the passive voice. When a past participle is being used as an adjective it will also follow the verb TO BE.
*This can be a little confusing.

How can I tell the difference between a past participle adjective and a past participle verb used with the passive voice? 

Adjectives describe a state or condition. A noun or noun phrase usually follows the adjective.

The Passive voice describes what happened, is happening, or will happen to the subject of the sentence. In the passive voice, the past participle will end a sentence or be followed by a preposition. Often the preposition BY.

Compare Adjectives and Passive voice

Present tensePast tensePast participle
forgetforgotforgotten
  • The lost and found office at the station is full of forgotten umbrellas.
    (The adjective forgotten is followed by the noun umbrellas.) 
  • The lost and found office at the station is full of umbrellas that were forgotten.
    (The past participle forgotten comes at the end of the sentence.)
  • The lost and found office at the station is full of umbrellas that were forgotten BY tired passengers.
    (The past participle forgotten os followed by the preposition BY.)

Past participle list

Most regular verbs will use the same spelling and pronunciation for the past participle.
*A regular verb is a verb with a past tense ending in _ed.

Present tensePast tensePast participle
allowallowedallowed
looklookedlooked
openopenedopened
playplayplayed
spraysprayedsprayed
walkwalkedwalked

An exception is the verb TO SHOW.
*Showed is possible as the past participle but it is rare. Shown is much more common.

Present tensePast tensePast participle
showshowedshown
  • Can I show you something? (present)
  • The station staff showed me how to use the ticket machine. (past)
  • Your paintings are amazing! Have you ever shown them to a museum? (past participle)

Here are some common verbs whose Past tense is not the same as the Past participle.

Present tensePast tensePast participle
awakeawokeawaken
choosechosechosen
drinkdrankdrunk
fallfellfallen
flyflewflown
growgrewgrown
runranrun
seesawseen
sinksanksunk
swimswamswum
writewrotewritten

Here are 11 common verbs that have the same spelling and pronunciation for the present tense, the past tense, and the past participle.

Present tensePast tensePast participle
betbetbet
costcostcost
cutcutcut
hithithit
hurthurthurt
letletlet
putputput
quitquitquit
shutshutshut
splitsplitsplit
spreadspreadspread

Some other verb tenses that I am often asked about.

Present tensePast tensePast participle
bringbroughtbrought
feelfeltfelt
meetmetmet
leadledled

Past participle PDF download

Download your free PDF Past participle list below

Past Participle Conclusion

My private students have many questions about verb grammar. Over the last 15 years, I’ve learned a lot about helping my students understand and use English verb tenses correctly.
(In fact, I had to give myself a refresher on the past participle to help my students!)
With time and experience, I’ve gotten much better at explaining this often misunderstood English grammar.

Past participle Infographic

Improve your Past Participle knowledge with these other blog posts ↓↓↓

3 thoughts on “Use Past Participles The Right Way (25 examples + PDF list)”

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  3. Pingback: How to use the Present Perfect Tense (25 Real Examples + PDF)

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