The Past Participle

What is the Past Participle?

The past participle is a special form of a verb that is used in a variety of situations.

It is most often used when constructing certain tenses (perfect, past perfect, future 2, and passive), but can also be used as an an adjective to take the place of the usually much longer subordinate clause.

Uses of the Past Participle

As an Adjective

The past participle is used as an adjective in place of a subordinate clause when the action in the subordinate clause took place before the action in the main clause.

  • „Er parkt jetzt das geputzte Auto.“

⇒ first action was cleaning.

⇒ second action is parking

  • „Er hat das Auto geputzt.“ „Er parkt das Auto jetzt.“

More information here: Participles as Adjectives

In these tenses: Perfect, Past Perfect, Future Perfect, and Passive

Constructing the Past Participle

Regular Construction

Verbs that have a regular conjugation in the present tense

ge   +   verb stem  +   -(e)t

Examples:

  • machen  ⇒   gemacht
  • arbeiten  ⇒  gearbeitet (when the verb stem ends in -d/-t)

Exception:

Verbs ending in –ieren don't get the "ge-"

  • organisieren  ⇒  organisiert

Verbs that are irregular / strong in the present tense

ge   +   verb stem  +   -en

Examples: 

  • fahren   ⇒   gefahren
  • schlafen  ⇒   geschlafen

Once you know what category the verb goes in, the construction follows the rules of that category.

Irregular Construction

Mixed Verbs

Mixed verbs are those where the past participle is formed with simple past form of the verb:

ge   +   verb stem in simple past  +   -t

Examples:

  • bringen  ⇒   gebracht (simple past: brachte)
  • brennen  ⇒   gebrannt (simple past: brannte)
  • kennen  ⇒  gekannt (simple past: kannte)

There's not general rule about which verbs use this irregular construction. You just have to learn them. But it usually goes pretty fast because the past participle is used a lot

Verbs with a Vowel Change

Some have a vowel change when forming the past participle. It's usually words that have a vowel change in the simple present tense. Additionally, the letter combination "ei" almost always changes to "ie."

Verbs with a vowel change almost always end in "-en."

ge   +   verb stem with vowel change  +  -en

Examples:

  • helfen   ⇒   geholfen
  • nehmen  ⇒  genommen
  • schreiben  ⇒  geschrieben

Construction for Compound Verbs

Separable Verbs

prefix  +  ge  +  verb stem  +   -t/-en

Examples:

  • einschlafen  ⇒  eingeschlafen 
  • aufräumen  ⇒   aufgeräumt
  • anbringen  ⇒  angebracht

The past participle of the main verb stays the same (just the prefix added to the front).

 

Inseparable Verbs

construction without "ge-" at the beginning.

prefix + verb stem  +   -t/-en

Examples:

  • besuchen  ⇒   besucht
  • verstehen  ⇒  verstanden

The past participle of the main verb stays the same, just without the prefix "ge-"!

Merke dir

Don't forget:

Independent from the prefix, the base of the past participle stays the same.

Examples:

  • stehen  ⇒  gestanden (normal verb)
  • aufstehen ⇒  aufgestanden (separable verb)
  • verstehen ⇒  verstanden (inseparable verb)

More info about separable and inseparable verbs: Compound Verbs

Related Topics

There is also the present participle.

The past participle is needed to form the perfectpast perfect, and passive.

Both participles are used as adjectives: Participles as Adjectives.

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