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What are they?

Participles are verbal adjectives. A verbal is a form of a verb that functions as another part of speech. Participles are forms of verbs, but they are not verbs. This is an important distinction to remember. While participles have some features of adjectives and some of verbs, they function as adjectives. As adjectives, participles modify nouns and pronouns. Sometimes the noun is expressly used, and sometimes it is implied when the participle serves as a substantive (parts of speech that act like nouns). Participles can have objects, have tenses and are written in either passive or active voice. Most participles end with “ed,” “ing” or “en” for those formed from regular verbs. Irregular verbs create a variety of endings for their respective participles.

Modifying nouns and pronouns

Participles modify nouns and pronouns in the same manner that adjectives do. However, they relate more directly to the verbs that form them. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: The glowing moon brightened the entire sky.

In Example 1, “glowing” is the participle. It modifies the noun “moon.” The participle can also function as a verb when it is used as such. In this instance however, it is modifying a noun, which is what makes it a verbal instead of a verb. It is more closely related to the verb from which it is formed (shine) because glowing means “to glow.”

Example 2: Those dancing kids are a blast to watch perform.

In example 2, “dancing” is the participle that modifies the noun “kids.” The verbal means “to dance.”

Serving as substantives

Regular adjectives can stand alone, where the noun is implied but not expressly written. (The poor are a growing population. “Poor” is the adjective that stands alone, and “people” is the implied noun. The poor [people] are a growing population.) Adjectives that stand alone are referred to as substantives. Functioning as adjectives, participles are used as substantives, too. Consider the following examples:

Example 3: Consider the following. (“Following” is the participle that serves as a substantive. The following [items] or the following [examples] is implied, depending on the context of the preceding sentence if this sentence were in a completed written piece.

Example 4: When the wounded return from battle, they receive top-notch medical care. (“Wounded” is the participle that serves as a substantive. Wounded [soldiers] is implied.)

Having objects

Unlike regular adjectives, participles can have an object. When you are trying to find the object of a participle, ask the question “who?” or “what?” after it. Consider the below example:

Example 5: Catching the football, the wide receiver started sprinting toward the end zone.

In Example 5, “catching” is the participle. It modifies “the wide receiver.” To find the object of the participle, ask “catches what?” The answer is the ball, making “the ball” the object of the participle.

Participle phrases

Participle phrases are phrases that contain a participle and its object. Looking at Example 5 from above, “catching the football” is a participle phrase. It is important to note that participle phrases do not include the noun they modify. Instead, the entire phrase acts as an adjective that modifies the noun.