Latin Past Participles: An English Comparison
A participle, or verbal adjective, is a word that functions like a verb and an adjective. English and Latin both have the present and past participle but only Latin has a future participle. This can cause Latin students to become frustrated when trying to properly apply a participial form they have never before encountered in English. However, English past participles share much in common with the Latin variety, making it a bit easier for the student to grasp their function, if not their form.
The English Past Participle
Identifying English past participles is simple because they often follow the words “has” or “have”, although sometimes they are unnecessary. Regular past participles are formed by taking the verb and adding an –ed, –d, or –t ending. For example, some verbs and their past participles include:
The irregular forms of English participles can only be memorized. Some irregular past participles include:
In English, the past participle has three main uses:
(1) Acting as part of an active voice sentence, such as:
Michael has passed his exams.
Mary and John have eaten their dinner.
(2) Acting as an adjective:
The frustrated teacher left the building.
The secretary sent the signed documents.
(3) Acting as an introduction to a participial phrase:
The teacher, frustrated by her students, left the building.
The manager, having signed the documents, mailed the letter.
Notice that “has” or “have” is not always necessary to express the past participle. Their use is sometimes optional, leaving it up to the writer or speaker to supply them as necessary to make the sentence as clear as possible.
The Latin Past Participle
Latin’s Past Participle is called the Perfect Passive Participle because it normally has a passive voice meaning. The Past Passive Participle has the same form as the fourth principal part of a verb in neuter form. If the student has been properly memorizing the principal parts of every verb, its identification is simple.
Perfect Past Participles end in either –tum (as in amatum) or –sum (as in missum) and decline as an adjective of the first and second declension. For example:
amatum (having been loved)
laudatum (having been praised)
portatum (having been carried)
As any adjective, the Perfect Passive Participle must agree with the noun it modifies in case, number, and gender. This participle has three main uses:
(1) Acting in a verb phrase of the passive voice perfect tense, such as:
Vir a femina laudatus est (The man was praised by the woman)
Femina a viro laudata est (The woman was praised by the man)
(2) Acting as an adjective, such as:
Vir feminam fisam laudat (The man praises the trusted woman)
Femina virum fisum laudat (The woman praises the trusted man)
(3) Acting as an adjective in a participial phrase, such as:
Fisus a Caesare, pedes pugnavit (Trusted by Caesar, the soldier fought)
Fisus a pedite, Caesar pugnavit (Trusted by the man, Caesar fought)
The Past Participle of English and the Perfect Passive Participle of Latin share some similarities. However, the Latin Past Participle can be conceptualized as indicating a passive voice verb whereas English indicates the active voice. The Past Participle of Latin forms the basic for the passive inflections of the perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect tenses. The perfect uses the present form of “sum”, the pluperfect uses the past form, and the future perfect uses the future form. By the time a student encounters the Latin participles, he/she should already be familiar with using the fourth principal part of a verb for these passive voice constructions.