Help with Participles

A dash of verb + a pinch of adjective = a participle. (After declining thoroughly, sprinkle liberally over your sentences.)

Participles: Latin has three kinds. These verbal adjectives do everything: sometimes are the main verb of a clause, sometimes serve as the subject of a sentence (and do other noun jobs, when they are substantives), and of course describe something or someone, with a verbal dimension to that description. The three groups of Latin participles are 1) Past Passive Participles, 2) Present Active Participles, and 3) Future Active Participles.

Latin Participles: Workhorse Words

Okay, great. But let’s first remind ourselves about what “passive” and “active” mean in a grammatical context.

A verb like “look” in English is in the active voice when we say “He looks” and it is in the passive voice when we say “He is looked at.” More examples:

Active: He loves. Passive: He is loved.

Active: She liked. Passive: She was liked.

Active: It had needed. Passive: It had been needed.

When the subject of the verb is doing the action of the verb, the action (verb) is in the active voice. When the subject of the verb is not doing the action of the verb but is only affected by the action of the verb, the action (verb) is in the passive voice.

One more thing before we dive into the three kinds of verbal adjectives: tense. You will see time (tense) words in the participle names–past, present, and future–but it’s not exactly what you think. With participles, the “past, present, and future” time ideas are going to depend on the time of the main action of the sentence. So translating the participle tense means indicating whether what the participle is talking about happens before, during, or after the time of the action of main verb. (I.e., past, present or future to that verb. ) But that will come up further on in your Latin studies. Just remember for now that in Latin time is somewhat relative.

Now, on to those participles!


Past Passive Participles

having been loved, having been seen, having been said, having been heard

In any Latin passage you pick up, you will likely be seeing a lot of Past Passive Participles, which are nice forms for two reasons: 1) they are a form explicitly listed in the dictionary entry of each verb, and 2) they are declined like 1st/2nd Declension nouns with those exact same endings. (Ahhhhhh–so nice!)

Endings…okay, so what do those 1st/2nd declension endings get tacked onto in order to make the complete Past Passive Participle? They get stuck to the base of the “4th Principal Part” of the verb you want to be using. This is the part that I mentioned was explicitly listed in the dictionary. Look up a verb in the Latin section of your dictionary… “love” for example: “amo, amare, amavi, amatus” <—That’s the 4th principal part. (With this particular word, the 4th principal part means, “loved, having been loved.”) Just mix and match the other 1st/2nd declension adjective endings to the part that comes before the “-us.” Then you can describe various people or nouns according to case, number and gender, as we always do with adjectives. Easy peasy.


Et dum fieret vox, inventus est Jesus solus. And whilst the voice was uttered, Jesus was found alone. –St. Luke 9:36

Et apertum est templum Dei in cælo : et visa est arca testamenti ejus in templo ejus… And the temple of God was opened in heaven: and the ark of his testament was seen in his temple… –Apocalypse 11:19


Present Active Participles

loving, seeing, saying, hearing

Present Active Participles are everywhere, too. These particular participles are very commonly used as nouns–and words standing in for nouns used to be called “substantives” from the Latin “substans” “standingunder“. The Present Active Participles are declined like 3rd declension nouns/adjectives, and having the same forms for masculines and feminines, and a few separate forms for neuters.


  • Amansloving. Mater amans. “A loving mother.”
  • Clamanscalling, crying out. Jesus autem iterum clamans voce magna, emisit spiritum.   And Jesus again crying with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. –St. Matthew 27: 50
  • (We see these participles modifying nouns in other cases than the nominative too, of course:) Aurem audientem, et oculum videntem : Dominus fecit utrumque. The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made them both. –Proverbs 20:12

Get to know your 3rd-declension adjective endings well, and then be on the lookout for these everywhere, in all kinds of constructions and situations.


Future Active Participles

about to love, about to see, about to say, about to hear

These Future Active Participles are really nice: they look a lot like the Past Passive Participles. (And they’re also declined like 1st/2nd Declension adjectives, yay!) Whereas the Past Passive Participle is “the 4th principal part” of a verb + the –us, –a, –um endings, the Future Active Participle is the 4th principal part + “urus, –ura, –urum“.

The Future Active Participle tells us the the person described is about to do something–that “something” being whatever the verb part tells us, of course. This participle is often used when you would actually have expected that the future tense (indicative active) would have been used. (Ah, Latin!)

What I love most about this participle is that part of our very phrase for it comes from a Latin Future Active Participle. The word “future,” comes from “futurus,” which is the Future Active Participle of “sum” or “to be.” So “futurus” is a way to say “about to be“. Isn’t that great?


  • Et edentibus illis, dixit : Amen dico vobis, quia unus vestrum me traditurus est.  And whilst they were eating, he said: Amen I say to you, that one of you is about to betray me.  –St. Matthew 26:21

The Future Active Participles aren’t quite as commonly used as the other two Participles, but thankfully they are unmistakeable and unconfusable with other forms. When you see one, you will be able to immediately know what you are seeing!

Now, just three more examples of these participles, in a place you all know well from Holy Mass.

Participles in the Wild: Nicene Creed

An example of each of the participles we have been discussing is found in these sequential lines of the Nicene Creed:

  • Crucifixus (est) etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, passus et sepultus est, et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas, et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris. (Past Passive Participle)

For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, He suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

  • Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, iudicare vivos et mortuos, cuius regni non erit finis. (Future Active Participle)

He will come (lit. “He is about to come“) again in glory to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end.

  • Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem, qui ex Patre Filioque procedit. (Present Active Participle)

I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the giver of life (lit. life-giving one), who proceeds from the Father and the Son.


Okay, we are done! Thanks for hanging in there with all of this participle stuff! (Oh, by the way, our English word “participle” comes from the same Latin word that we also get our word “participate” from. By now you have seen many times in these participle examples how the adjective and the verb both participate in their meanings!)

So maybe this post has tamed those ubiquitous beasts for you? I hope so, anyway. Tell me what else you would like to know about Latin grammar in the comments.

Bene valete!

File:Robertson Dictionnaire idéologique - séparateur du titre.png
(Wait…aren’t there really four kinds of Latin Participles? What about “Future Passive” Participles?)

Some include the Gerundive in the list of Latin participles as a fourth participle, the Future Passive Participle. I…do not. I mentally link it up with the Gerund and classify it as the Gerundive. (Glad you asked! 😉 )

4 thoughts on “Help with Participles

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  1. Tibi gratias! I think learning Latin is like seeing a bunch of interconnecting mechanisms that are interesting to observe one by one, but really interesting to watch put together and in operation. I learned so much about English and how language works in general from studying Latin. It’s simply wonderful!


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