Grammar – Past Participle in a Nugget

Your next worst offender, judging by the poll (here’s the poll, in case you missed it. Go on and vote, I’m keeping it open ) is to do with using the past participle, which is a cute little tense that we use a lot.

The only problem is that you’ll often find it right after an auxiliary verb, usually contracted (shortened with the help of that darned apostrophe), and when we speak fast, we tend to completely miss or mishear the only clue we have to the real tense of the verb in question.

Here’s an example:

I’ve seen you and her skipping along, hand in hand!

‘Seen’ is the past participle of the verb ‘to see’. What happens is that we ignore the ‘ve’ part, which is the auxiliary verb ‘to have’ and therefore wrongly identify ‘seen’ as a simple past tense. If we’d been patient enough to say ‘I have seen you’, we would know what we are dealing with.

In recent years, I have noticed an increased trend of using the past participle instead of a simple past tense, only butchered, missing its auxiliary. This is a habit borne of our need for speed, informal language and slang, and that habit has stuck and distorts even the best penned books. So let’s have no more of it.

All regular verbs are simple – their past participle is formed adding ‘ed’. The irregular verbs are a little more troublesome, because they have to be learned one by one. If you need me to supply a complete list of irregular verbs and their tenses, I can do that, but my guess is that is not the real problem.

The trick is to realize you have to marry this past participle with an auxiliary verb. Whatever you do, don’t just use it raw and unprotected. It will jump out and scream at you. Or I will.

So, here are correct ways to use the past participle (notice that the auxiliary verb doesn’t have to be always in present tense):

I have been ill since the end of July.

You have done the right thing coming to tell me.

We had seen all that before.

And incorrectly:

I been to the store already. (this is neither past tense nor past participle – you can say either ‘I have been’ or ‘I went’; ‘been’ has no place here)

I can’t believe you done that! (either ‘did’ or ‘have done’ would be correct)

Who is she? I seen her face before! (again, either ‘saw’ or ‘have seen’ is correct)

In conclusion, slow down, think it through and attach it to an auxiliary verb – that is all the past participle is asking of you.


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