I am confused about what a "participle" is. Wiki defines it as: "A participle (ptcp) is a form of a verb that is used in a sentence to modify a noun, noun phrase, verb, or verb phrase, and plays a role similar to an adjective or adverb." Quote is from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participle.

My confusion is that I cannot imagine a sentence where a verb is not modifying a noun, noun phrase, verb, etc.

I think my confusion would go away if someone could give me a sentence where a verb is NOT a participle.

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    Wiki is being silly about this. Verbs don't modify nouns or any other word categories, but function as heads of verb phrases. Most participles are verb forms, but a few can be adjectives (called participial adjectives). Compare We're entertaining the neighbours this evening (verb form) ~ "The show was very entertaining" (adjective).
    – BillJ
    Jun 3, 2019 at 12:35
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    @BillJ Can you give me a better definition of "participle" then? Because the wiki definition would seem to include all verbs. Jun 3, 2019 at 12:40
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    The word 'modify' is not well-defined, with conflicting definitions in use (though some will claim the CGEL usage is 'correct'). But in 'To think is to do', many would argue that there are no nouns being addressed. Jun 3, 2019 at 14:15
  • @WesleyKohn Participles are secondary verb forms, i.e. untensed. They occur in non-finite clauses, passive clauses, the progressive aspect and in the perfect tense, but not normally as modifiers of other words except as part of a clause.
    – BillJ
    Jun 3, 2019 at 16:48
  • You must realise that participles (both the ing-forms and the past participles) are verb forms that function as heads of verb phrases, which in turn function as predicates in clauses. Some participles can also function as adjectives, as in the example I gave in my last comment.
    – BillJ
    Jun 3, 2019 at 20:39

1 Answer 1


In answer to your first request: verbs which are not participles:

Here are two quotations. Marked verbs are NOT participles. ('Lit' is the participle form)

I wish I were a firefly, and I could light cigars and cheroots with my tail.

And, in this extract from a Shakespeare song, only staring is a participle.

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,

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