Don’t be intimidated by the mouthful of grammatical terms! The past participle is crucial for using compound tenses in Spanish, but luckily it is very easy to master. Present and past participles are a form of a verb that doesn’t change to show tense (when something occurred). Participles are used in several different ways in Spanish, including as an adjective, noun, and in conjunction with other verbs.
The equivalent of the present participle in Spanish (called a “gerund” or “gerundio”) usually ends with either -ando or -iendo in Spanish and -ing in English. The past participle (called the “participio”) is very commonly used as an adjective or in conjunction with the auxiliary (“helping”) verb haber, when forming past tense forms.
Example: “to run” Infinitive: correr
Present participle: corriendo (“running”) Past participle: corrido (“run”)
In English, the past tense form of a verb is often used as the past participle, which makes it a little more tricky to recognize when the verb is simply in past tense and when it’s being used as a past participle. Usually, past tense verbs in English end in “-ed,” but many are irregular (such as “to run” above).
I jumped [past tense]. I have jumped [past participle].
I gave [past tense] a gift. I have given [past participle] a gift.
Irregular English past participles that end in “-en” (given, broken, seen, broken, driven) are easier to spot.
He dado muchos regalos. (I have given many presents.)
Just like English, Spanish uses the past participle as both an adjective and in compound forms with “have.”
Has construido una bonita casa. You have built [compound verb] a nice house.
Una casa bien construida sobrevivirá a la tormenta. The well-built [adjective] house will survive the storm.
The past participle is also used in passive forms after “is” or “was.” A passive sentence talks about an action without specifying who did it.
La casa fue construida hace muchos años. The house was built many years ago.
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Past Participle as a Verb
Though the past participle starts from the infinitive of a verb, it isn’t like other verb tenses or moods, which change to show when the action took place and who was responsible for it. These two pieces of information are instead expressed by the auxiliary verb haber that comes before the past participle in perfect tenses in the indicative mood, such as future perfect indicative, conditional perfect indicative, present perfect and past perfect indicative.
Hemos aprendido demasiado para un día. We have learned too much for one day.
Auxiliary verb in present (when), nosotros (who): hemos Past participle: aprendido
Has corrido mucho hoy. You have run so much today.
Auxiliary verb in present (when), tú (who): has Past participle: corrido
|-AR verbs||-IR/-ER verbs|
|ex: olvidar = olvidado||ex: partir = partido|
When the past participle is combined with haber, it doesn’t need to change its form to show gender/number at all.
Common Irregular Past Participles
Unfortunately, not all verbs follow the pattern above. These irregular verbs need to be memorized.
Irregulars ending in -to:
|Infinitive verb||Past participle||PP English translation|
Irregulars ending in -cho:
|Infinitive verb||Past participle||PP English translation|
Verbs with Multiple Past Participle Forms
Some verbs have two versions of their past participle. These may vary depending on the regional Spanish customs, such as descripto** being used in Uruguay and Argentina. In some cases, one is used as the adjective version (noted with a * ) and the other is used to combine with haber in compound forms. Those that are interchangeable are noted with *** .
|Past participle forms||Infinitive verb||PP English translation|
|corrompido, corrupto*||corromper||spoiled, corrupted|
|maldecido, maldito*||maldecir||to curse|
|poseído, poseso*||poseer||possessed, owned|
|suspendido, suspenso*||suspender||hung, suspended|
Past Participle as an Adjective
The past participle is used as an adjective when describing past events, similarly to English. Like other adjectives in Spanish, the past-participle-as-adjective needs to change its ending to match the gender and number of the noun it’s describing. In Spanish, each noun has a “gender,” which doesn’t contribute to the meaning of the noun (i.e., it’s a random M/F assignment).
¿Puedes cambiar el espejo roto con uno nuevo por favor? Can you replace the broken mirror with a new one please?
¿Puedes cambiar las sillas rotas por unas nuevas por favor? Can you replace the broken chairs with new ones please?
Infinitive verb: romper Past participle (irregular): roto Feminine past participle: rota Plural past participle: rotos Feminine plural past participle: rotas
Past Participle as a Noun
In some cases, a past participle can be used as a noun for something that has that specific quality. It’s easiest to think of the adjective usage of the past participle becoming a noun, since we do this with other adjectives in both English and Spanish.
Take a look at this familiar example in English with a past participle used as a noun, an adjective used as a noun, and a past participle used as an adjective:
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…
Hacer – el hecho El hecho de que no vinieras me preocupó. The fact that you didn’t come worried me.
Estar – el estado El estado del enfermo es bastante crítico. The patient’s condition is quite serious.
Here are a few other examples:
Decir – el dicho (the saying) Estar – el estado (the state of being / condition) Herir – el herido (the injured) Morir – el muerto (the dead person) Poner – el puesto (a post/position) Acusar – el acusado (the accused) Volver – la vuelta (the turn / a walk / the return)
Not as scary as it seemed, right? Once you’ve learned to recognize the past participle, using it is easy. Plus, any tense that uses the past participle is like a “get out of jail free” card for conjugation – you only need to memorize the different forms of haber to use it! Sign up for Lingvist’s online Spanish course for more practice using past participles, including those tricky irregular forms.