Etymology of Participle


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A participle is a verbal that is used as an adjective and most often ends in -ing or -ed. The term verbal indicates that a participle, like the other two kinds of verbals, is based on a verb and therefore expresses action or a state of being. However, since they function as adjectives, participles modify nouns or pronouns.


The word comes from Latin participium, a calque of Greek metochḗ “partaking” or “sharing”, because the Ancient Greek and Latin participles share in the properties of the adjective or noun (gender, number, and case) and of the verb (tense and voice).

Types of participles

There are two types of participles: present participles and past participles. Present participles end in -ing. Past participles end in -ed, -en, -d, -t, or -n, as in the words asked, eaten, saved, dealt, and seen. A participial phrase is a group of words consisting of a participle and the modifier(s) and/or (pro)noun(s) or noun phrase(s) that function as the direct object(s), indirect object(s), or complement(s) of the action or state expressed in the participle.


Non-finiteforms of the verbs are formed by special morphemic elements which do not express either grammatical time or mood (the most specific finite verb categories). They can be combined with verbs like non-processual lexemes (performing non-verbal functions in the sentence), and they can be combined with non-processual lexemes like verbs (performing verbal functions in the sentence) .

The present participle is the non-finite form of the verb which combines the properties of the verb with those of the adjective and adverb, serving as the qualifying-processual name. In its outer form the present participle is wholly homonymous with the gerund, ending in the suffix -ing and distinguishing the same grammatical categories of retrospective coordination and voice.

The past participle is the non-finite form of the verb -positional functions of the past which combines the properties of the verb with those of the adjective, serving as the qualifying-processual name. The past participle is a single form, having no paradigm of its own. By way of the paradigmatic correlation with the present participle, it conveys implicitly the categorial meaning of the perfect and the passive. As different from the present participle, it has no distinct combinability features or syntactic function features specially characteristic of the adverb. Thus, the main self-positional functions of the past participle in the sentence are those of the attribute and the predicative.

The functions of the participle in the sentence are more restricted as compared with those of the infinitive and the gerund. Besides, it tends to become adjectivized even in the functions that it can perform in the sentence.

The participle cannot be used either as the subject or as the predicate of the sentence. When it is used as predicative, it is always adjectivized and may be preceded, like a real adjective, by adverb of degree, such as extremely, greatly, so, too, very and the correlative conjunctions as … as and not so … as.

It should be mentioned that if participles were not adjectivized in this case, they would form, with the verb to be, the Passive Voice.

Note. Some adjectivized participles, however, can be modified, like verbs, by (very) much. This may be accounted for by their verbal origin

e.g. If Tony expected her to rush into his arms he was very much mistaken.

In a day or two the answer came back that he was very much opposed to the whole scheme.

It follows from what has been said that the participle proper (i.e. the participle which is not adjectivized) cannot be used as predicative.

The functions of the Participle I in the sentence

Participle I as an attribute. It can be in pre-position or in post-position.

e.g. The gate-keeper surveyed the retreating vehicle.(Hardy)

Through the massive sunlight illuminating the hall at Robin Hill, the July sunlight at 5 o’clock fell just where the broad staircase turned. (Galthworthy)

Participle I as an adverbial modifier:

of time

e.g. Having reached the classroom , she became the object of many questions. (Collins)

b) of cause

e.g. Having been a little in that line myself, I understood it. (Show)

c) of manner and attendant circumstances.

e.g. He has been in three revolutions fighting in the barricades. (Shaw)

e) of comparison

e.g. This was said as if thinking aloud. (Gaskell)

Participle I as a predicative.

Participle I as a part of complex object.

Participle I as a part of compound verbal predicate.

e.g. Presently other footsteps were heard crossing the room below. (Hardy)

Participle I as a parenthesis forms the headword of a participial phrase, the meaning of which is a comment upon the contents of the whole sentence or sometimes part of it. The comment may take the form of a logical restriction or personal attitude. Here we find such participial phrases as generally (properly, roughly, legally, strictly) speaking, putting it mildly, judging by (from), allowing for, taking everything into consideration, etc.

e.g. Generally speaking, I don’t like boys.(Dickens)

The functions of the Participle II in the sentence.

Participle II as an attribute. It can be used ,as well as the Participle I, in pre-position or in post-position.

e.g. He answered through the locked door.(Wells)

They turned into the large conservatory beautifully lit up with Chinese lamps.(Eliot)

Participle II as an adverbial modifier:

  1. of time
  2. of comparison
  3. of condition

    e.g. In was dreadful thing that he now proposed, a breach of the law which, if discovered, would bring them into the police court.(Cronin)
  4. of concession

Participle II as a predicative.

Participle II as a part of complex object.

e.g. She has found me unaltered; but I have found her changed. (Collins)

The present participle, can build up semi-predicative complexes of objective and subjective types. The two groups of complexes, i.e. infinitival and present participial, may exist in parallel (e.g. when used with some verbs of physical perceptions), the difference between them lying in the aspective presentation of the process.

Nobody noticed the scouts approach the enemy trench. — Nobody noticed the scouts approaching the enemy trench with slow, cautious, expertly calculated movements. Suddenly a telephone was heard to buzz, breaking the spell. — The telephone was heard vainly buzzing in the study.

A peculiar use of the present participle is seen in the absolute participial constructions of various types, forming complexes of detached semi-predication.

The messenger waiting in the hall, we had only a couple of minutes to make a decision. The dean sat at his desk, with an electric fire glowing warmly behind the fender at the opposite wall.

These complexes of descriptive and narrative stylistic nature seem to be gaining ground in present-day English.

The past participle is included in the structural formation of the present participle (perfect, passive), which, together with the other differential properties, vindicates the treatment of this form as a separate verbid

Like the present participle, the past participle is capable of making up semi-predicative constructions of complex object, complex subject, as well as of absolute complex.

The past participial complex object is specifically characteristic with verbs of wish and oblique causality (have, get).

I want the document prepared for signing by 4 p.m. Will you have my coat brushed up, please?

The complex subject of this type, whose participle is included in the double predicate of the sentence, is used but occasionally. A more common type of the participial complex subject can be seen with notional links of motion and position.

We sank down and for a while lay there stretched out and exhausted.

The absolute past participial complex as a rule expresses priority in the correlation of two events.

The preliminary talks completed, it became possible to concentrate on the central point of the agenda.

The past participles of non-objective verbs are rarely used in independent sentence-part positions; they are mostly included in phraseological or cliché combinations like faded photographs, fallen leaves, a retired officer, a withered flower, dream come true, etc.

Participle may function as part of a predicative construction, entering into a predicative relationship with some nominal element and forming a syntactical unit with it.

In Modern English we find the following predicative construction with the participle:

  • the Objective Participle Construction;
  • the Subjective Participle Construction;
  • the Nominative Absolute Participle Construction;
  • the Prepositional Absolute Participle Construction.