Past Participle

“History does not merely touch on language, but takes place in it.” — Theodor Adorno, c. 1946

There was really only one choice.

Only one choice of headline for the coda on this week’s discussion about the present (“Present Tense”) and the future (“Future Perfect”).

Well, only one choice if you happen to be a word nerd like me.

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A past participle is a verb that looks back. Simply put, you get a past participle by adding “-ed” to the end of a verb. So cook becomes cooked. Jump becomes jumped.

But write becomes written. Bring becomes brought. And read becomes read.

Ah, don’t you just love English?


Don’t Leave Me Hanging

Of course, we can’t leave a discussion of participles without everyone’s favorite: the dangling participle.

A dangling participle occurs when there is no proper subject noun for a participle to modify. For example,

Coming down the stairs for dinner, I smelled the salmon.

Obviously, salmon can’t come down the stairs—they’re salmon; they’d go up the stairs!


No, it isn’t the salmon that are traversing stairs, it’s you. Properly stated without a dangling participle, it should read:

When I was coming down the stairs, I smelled the salmon.


I’m always reminded of one passage in the Sherlock Holmes stories when I see the term dangling participle.

In “His Last Bow,” set in 1914, Sherlock Holmes has apprehended a German spy in England, just prior to the beginning of World War I. He has nothing but disdain for Von Bork, and cautions him:

“My dear sir, if you did anything so foolish you would probably enlarge the two limited titles of our village inns by giving us ‘The Dangling Prussian’ as a signpost. The Englishman is a patient creature, but at present his temper is a little inflamed, and it would be as well not to try him too far.”

I wonder if they’d serve salmon at The Dangling Prussian?


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