How to Know the Difference Between the Past Tense of a Verb and the Past Participle

Grammar is the system or set of rules that directs sentence construction. English grammar is comprised of a complex system of rules. Many of these rules are based on abstract concepts, such as verb tense and participles. It can sometimes be confusing getting a handle on the nuances of English grammar, especially when it has to do with concepts that have common characteristics. Past tense verbs and past participles, for example, are very similar in concept but there is a distinction. Learning to understand the difference between the two is analogous to understanding the difference between a square and rectangle.

Identify the verbs in the sentence. Verbs are often described as "action words" because the role of a verb is to either express action or convey a state of being. For example, in the sentence "He ran," "ran" is the verb because it expresses action. In the sentence "She is happy," "is" is the verb because it conveys a state of being. Review the sentence and circle any word that expresses action or conveys a state of being.

Determine the tense of the verb. Tense is used to describe time as in "past tense," "present tense" and "future tense." A word or phrase is considered future tense if it describes something that hasn't actually happened yet. For example, "She's going to take a walk in the park to clear her mind." "Going to take a walk" is future tense because it alludes to something that hasn't yet occurred. A word or phrase is present tense if it describes something that is going on now or something that is unchanging or reoccurring. For example, "She likes to walk in the park to clear her mind." "Walk" is present tense because it describes a recurring action. Past tense is used to describe something that has already happened. For example, "She walked in the park to clear her mind." "Walked" is past tense because it describes an action that has already happened. Underline the verb if it's past tense.

Figure out whether the past tense verb also functions as an adjective. A "participle" is a verb that's used as an adjective. An adjective is a word or clause that describes or modifies a person or thing. Hence, a "past participle" is a past tense verb that doubles as a descriptor. In the sentence, "He was kind of flaky in college; that's why he didn't graduate," the words "was" and "didn't" are past tense verbs. The word "flaky" is an adjective. None of these words function as a past participle because the past tense verbs do not double as adjectives and the adjective does not double as a past tense verb. In the sentence, "He flaked out in college; that's why didn't he graduate," the word "flaked" is a past participle because it conveys action, it's past tense and it functions as an adjective. Put a star over any verb that satisfies the standards of a past participle.

About the Author

Maya Austen began freelance writing in 2009. She has written for many online publications on a wide variety of topics ranging from physical fitness to amateur astronomy. She's also an author and e-book publisher. Austen has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from the New England Institute of Art and currently lives in Boston, Mass.

Photo Credits
  • Zedcor Wholly Owned/ Images