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Teaching Spanish: Understanding Spanish Past Participles

written by: Curt Smothers • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 8/2/2012

Spanish past participles are the key to the second seven Spanish verb conjugations and, as in English, do double duty as adjectives. Students need a good foundation in this versatile verb part, and should memorize the most common irregular forms.

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    The Past Participle in English and Spanish

    In English, the regular past participle form of the verb ends in -ed (talked, walked). We have many irregular forms of the past participle like gone, sung, rang. The new English student must simply memorize these irregular forms.

    In Spanish, the regular past participle form of the verb ends in -ado (for -ar verbs) and -ido (for -er and -ir verbs). Spanish drops the -ar, -er, and -ir endings and adds these endings to regular verb stems. (The verb stem is what we get when we drop the endings; hence, the verbv stem for hablar is habl-.) Hablar (to speak) becomes hablado (spoken) -- notice how what is regular in Spanish is sometimes irregular in English, and vice versa.) Beber and vivir (to drink and to live) become bebido and vivido (drank and lived).

    As in English, there are a number of irregular Spanish past participle verb forms that also must be learned and memorized. The most common irregular past participles in Spanish are:

    Infinitive - Irregular past participle

    abrir (to open) - abierto (opened)

    caer (to fall) - caido (fallen)

    *cubrir (to cover) - cubierto (covered)

    decir (to say, to tell) - dicho (said, told)

    *descubrir (to discover) - descubierto (discovered)

    escribir (to write) - escrito (written)

    *hacer (to do, to make) - hecho (done, made

    imprimir (to print) - impreso (printed)

    morir (to die) - muerto (died)

    poner (to put) - puesto (put)

    romper (to break) - roto (broken)

    ver (to see) - visto (seen)

    volver (to return) - vuelto (returned)

    *Note: Derivative forms of these verbs have similar irregular past participle. For example deshacer (to undo) becomes deshecho (undone).

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    Using the Past Participle

    Spanish uses the past participle in the following ways:

    • To form the seven compound tenses:

    The Spanish past participle joins with the seven conjugations of the verb haber (to have) to form the compound tenses. Here are some examples in the indicative mood:

    he visto - I have seen

    había roto - I had broken

    habré hecho - I will have done

    habría escrito - I would have written

    (See the Bright Hub Article on forming compound tenses.)

    • To form the Perfect Infinitive and Perfect Participle:

    haber hablado - to have spoken

    habiendo hablado - having spoken

    • To Serve as an Adjective

    Soy muy respetado de todos los alumnus. (I am very respected by all the students.)

    Las mujeres son muy conocidas*. (The women are very well known.)

    *The adjective form of the past participle must agree in gender and number with the noun it modifies.

    • To show the result of an action with estar, quedar or quedarse

    La puerta está abierta. (The door is open.)

    Los niños se quedaron asustados. (The children remained afraid.)

    • To express the passive voice with ser:*

    La ventana fue abierta por Juan. (The window was opened by Juan.)

    *Spanish speakers do not use this passive construction so frequently as we do in English. The preferred method is to opt for the active voice or to use the reflexive to express the passive. (Se cree que Juan abrió la ventana. It is believed that Juan closed the window.)

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    More Resources for Teaching the Spanish Participle

    Spanish-Kit - Formation of the Participles Spanish Language - Past Participles: Both Verb and Adjective Spanish Language - Irregular Past Participles