Forming the Past Participle of English Verbs

By Heather Marie Kosur

The following article explains the formation of the past participle of English verbs including spelling changes and pronunciation.

Past Participles

The past participle is a nonfinite (unconjugated) verb form. In English, the past participle is prototypically used to form the perfect and Past Participle 1 perfect-progressive aspects; please view the top image to the right.

The past participle is also prototypically used to form the passive voice, as you can see from the second image.

Past Participle 2 

Past participles can also function as noun phrase modifiers, which is explained in more detail at The Functions of Verbs and Verb Phrases in English.

The following sections discuss the formation of past participles as well as the spelling changes and pronunciation rules for English past participles.

Regular Verbs

The past participle of regular English verbs is identical in form to the simple past tense. For most verbs in English, the past participle is formed by adding the morphological suffix -ed to the end of the base form. The base form of an English verb is the infinitive without the preposition to functioning as an infinitive marker. For example:

  • Base – Past Participle
  • ask – asked
  • boil – boiled
  • dress – dressed
  • hover – hovered
  • jump – jumped
  • search – searched
  • walk – walked
  • yell – yelled

English verbs that take the morphological suffix -ed to form the past participle are referred to as regular verbs.

Spelling Changes of Regular Past Participles

Some regular verbs undergo slight spelling changes as past participles. For verbs that end with the letter e, add only the morphological suffix -d to the end of the base form. For example:

  • Base – Simple Past
  • admire – admired
  • care – cared
  • frame – framed
  • guide – guided
  • joke – joked
  • like – liked
  • prepare – prepared
  • sparkle – sparkled

For verbs than end in a consonant followed by the letter y, change the y to an i and add the morphological suffix -ed. For example:

  • Base – Simple Past
  • carry – carried
  • dry – dried
  • empty – emptied
  • identify – identified
  • marry – married
  • multiply – multiplied
  • terrify – terrified
  • worry – worried

For verbs with one syllable that end in a single vowel sound followed by a single consonant (other than w or y), double the final consonant and then add the morphological suffix -ed to the end of the verb. For example:

  • Base – Simple Past
  • bat – batted
  • clip – clipped
  • drop – dropped
  • grin – grinned
  • hug – hugged
  • step – stepped
  • tap – tapped
  • whip – whipped

For verbs with two syllables in which the second syllable is stressed, double the final consonant and then add the morphological suffix -ed to the end of the verb. For example:

  • Base – Simple Past
  • admit – admitted
  • benefit – benefited
  • commit – committed
  • concur – concurred
  • format – formatted
  • prefer – preferred
  • regret – regretted
  • reoccur – reoccurred

For verbs that end with the letter c, add the letter k after the c and then add the morphological suffix -ed to the end of the verb. For example:

  • Base – Present Participle
  • frolic – frolicked
  • mimic - mimicked
  • panic – panicked
  • picnic – picnicked
  • traffic – trafficked

Pronunciation of Regular Past Participles

The pronunciation rules for regular past participles are the same as for regular simple past tense verbs. If the last syllable of the verb sounds like [t] or [d], then the suffix is pronounced as a voiced ed [әd]. If the last syllable of the verb is a voiceless sound, then the suffix is pronounced as an unvoiced t [t]. And, if the last syllable of the verb is a voiced sound, then the suffix is pronounced as a voiced d [d]. For more information on the pronunciation of regular past participles, please read the article Forming the Simple Past Tense of English Verbs: Spelling Changes and Pronunciation.

Irregular Verbs

Unlike regular English past participles, irregular past participles do not follow any real pattern. Some irregular verbs have the same base and past participle forms. For example:

  • Base – Past Participle
  • become – become
  • cast – cast
  • cut – cut
  • hit – hit
  • input – input
  • offset – offset
  • shut – shut
  • wet – wet

For other irregular verbs, add the morphological suffix an -en or ­-n to the end of the base form. For example:

  • Base – Past Participle
  • arise – arisen
  • be – been
  • draw – drawn
  • fall – fallen
  • give – given
  • know – known
  • mistake – mistaken
  • throw – thrown

Other irregular verbs experience a vowel sound change from the base form to the past participle. For example:

  • Base – Simple Past – Vowel Change
  • begin – begun – [I] → [ə]
  • cling – clung – [i] → [ə]
  • drink – drunk – [i] → [ə]
  • hold – held – [o] → [ɛ]
  • lead – led – [i] → [ɛ]
  • meet – met – [i] → [ɛ]
  • plead – pled – [i] → [ɛ]
  • swim – swum – [I] → [ə]

Other irregular verbs experience both a vowel sound change and the additional of the morphological suffix an -en or ­-n t from the base form to the past participle. For example:

  • Base – Simple Past – Vowel Change
  • awake – awoken – [e] → [o]
  • bear – born – [e] → [o]
  • choose – chosen – [u] → [o]
  • hide – hidden – [ai] → [I]
  • outdo – outdone – [u] → [ə]
  • ride – ridden – [ai] → [I]
  • smite – smitten – [ai] → [I]
  • write – written – [ai] → [I]

Other irregular verbs experience a consonant sound change from the base form to the past participle. For example:

  • Base – Simple Past – Consonant Change
  • build – built – [d] → [t]
  • dwell – dwelt – [l] → [lt]
  • have – had – [v] → [d]
  • keep – kept – [p] → [pt]
  • leave – left – [v] → [ft]
  • make – made – [k] → [d]
  • send – sent – [d] → [t]

Other irregular verbs experience both vowel sound and consonant sound changes from the base form to the simple past tense form. For example:

  • Base – Simple Past – Vowel Change – Consonant Change
  • bring – brought – [i] → [ɔ] – [ŋ] → [t]
  • creep – crept – [i] → [ɛ] – [p] → [pt]
  • do – done – [o] → [ə] – [Ø] → [n]
  • flee – fled – [i] → [ɛ] – [Ø] → [d]
  • hear – heard – [i] → [ə] – [r] → [rd]
  • leave – left – [i] → [ɛ] – [v] → [ft]
  • teach – taught – [i] → [ɔ] – [č] → [t]
  • sell – sold – [ɛ] → [o] – [l] → [ld]

In addition to the pronunciation changes of irregular past participles, many irregular verbs also undergo some irregular spelling changes that must simply be memorized. For a printable download of the most common irregular English verbs, please see English Irregular Verbs: Simple Past Tense and Past Participles.

For information on other verb forms in English, please read the article The English Verb System For ESL Students.