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Past Tense and Past Participle

Updated on December 4, 2015

Past Tenses and Past Participles

Question: What is the difference between the past tense and the past participle?

Many times people find it quite difficult differentiating the past tense from the past participle, which is why the question above happens to be one of the most commonly asked questions in English grammar.


To answer the question above, we are going to take a look at each of them one after the other.

What is the past tense?

The past tense is simply a verb that shows that an action or event took place in the past and ended.

Examples of the past tense include the following verbs: walked, talked, slapped, climbed, cooked, began, ran, etc.

  • I walked away because of the noise.
  • John talked to the child harshly.
  • I slapped him because he insulted me.
  • I climbed the mountain yesterday.
  • I cooked for him last night.
  • I began the work last week.
  • I ran away because of the screams.

All the verbs above show that their respective actions or events happened before the present time. This is what the past tense is.

What is the past participle?

The past participle on the other hand is defined as the form of the verb that is used with these three helping verbs: has, have or had. Any verb that comes after these helping verbs is a past participle.


  • I have done the work.
  • They have eaten all the food.
  • We have begun the work.
  • He had started the work before we got there.
  • John has gone outside for a smoke.
  • We have seen so many interesting things today.
  • The thief has run away with our money.
  • I have written the letter for you.
  • Have you rung the lawyer yet?
  • I have broken the vase.

All the highlighted words above are verbs and past participles. They are past participles because they are verbs that come immediately after the auxiliary verbs has, had and have.

Also, in the Passive voice, a past participle is any verb that comes just after the ‘be verb. The ‘be’ verbs are: am, is, are, was, were, been, and being.

The passive voice is a sentence whose subject is acted on instead of its object. In the passive voice, the writer or speaker changes the focus of the sentence or statement from the subject to the object and puts the object first. The opposite of the passive voice is the active voice. An example of a passive voice is as follows:

  • Fish are eaten by cats. (Passive voice)

The active or common version is:

  • Cats eat fish. (Active voice)

Examples of past participles in passive voices:

  • The vase was broken by John.
  • The boys were beaten by the man.
  • The food has been eaten by the children.
  • The book was stolen by the thieves.

All the highlighted verbs in the sentences above are past participles because they come after the ‘be’ verb in the passive voice.

Past participle as an adjective

Past participles sometimes become adjectives when they qualify or describe nouns. For example:

  • The broken table was repaired.
  • The road was blocked by a fallen tree.
  • The disgraced politician killed himself.

The highlighted words in the sentences above are past participles and at the same time adjectives because they are describing their respective nouns. For example, in sentence 1, the word ‘broken’ is describing the noun ‘table’.


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      Michael 19 months ago

      In two of your last three sentences the past participle does not come after the helping verbs

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      bhuvan 2 years ago

      I really like the examples of both which we knew already but the exact difference is not been discussed....

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      henry pop 2 years ago

      Thanks very much you people helped a lot.

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      corey thompson 3 years ago

      What the past tense and past participle of yet