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I have heard that the origin of the present perfect construction is that sentences like "I have it done" (passive) changed to "I have done it" (present perfect).

Is that true at all?

If that's the case, would anyone mind giving me an explanation in detail on how the change took place?

Moreover, if the passive construction used to be the only usage of past participles, why are they called "past participle" in the first place?

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Rachel Costa wrote a PhD dissertation at the University of Michigan on this topic. – John Lawler Jan 4 '13 at 2:20
If we can't find a suitable short answer or reference to this, are we failing in the objectives here? Even I'm interested in the answer as much. – Kris Jan 4 '13 at 6:59
@JohnLawler Thanks but I cannot access the resources at that site, I guess. – Kris Jan 4 '13 at 7:00
For what it's worth, this is basically true for the development of the perfect tense in Romance languages, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's also true for the Germanic languages. By contrast, Slavic languages still have fully distinct perfect and passive participles, and in those Slavic languages that still use an auxiliary verb for the perfect (e.g., Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian), that verb is always "to be." – Branimir Ćaćić Jan 4 '13 at 9:05
"I have it done" is still the correct order in Present Perfect in contemporary German. "I have done it" would be jarringly ungrammatical (and interestingly, even non-native speakers who tend to make lots of word-order mistakes barely ever make that particular one). – RegDwigнt Jan 4 '13 at 9:51
up vote 2 down vote accepted

This is far from being a complete answer to an interesting question, but in ‘An Invitation of Old English and Anglo-Saxon England’, Bruce Mitchell provides some evidence that the past participle was seen as an adjective in the ancestor of modern perfect constructions. There were three forms in Old English that correspond, for example, to our past perfect construction. One is: Hie hæfdon ϸone cyning ofslægenne, ‘They had the king, slain.’ Ofslægenne is inflected as an adjective here, showing the -ne ending of the accusative masculine singular. It agrees with ϸone cyning, the object of hæfdon. Similarly, the ancestor of today’s passive is seen in patterns like He wæs / wearϸ ofslægen ‘He was / became slain’ Hie wæron / wurdon ofslægene ‘They were / became slain’. In the second, the participle is again inflected as an adjective.

As for the term itself, I suspect we use ‘past participle’ simply because most of our traditional grammar terms are based on descriptions of Latin grammar. Latin had present active and future active participles and perfect passive and future passive participles. The perfect passive participle has come to be understood as a past participle when applied to English.

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