Present and Past Participles

Participles are words that are formed from a verb, but can that be used as adjectives. They can also be used to form continuous and perfect tenses (more about perfect tenses later).

The Present Participle

In English, all present participles end with ‘ing’ (and are sometimes also used as nouns, although this is not the case in Portuguese). For example:

  • ‘These are my painting gloves’ – the present participle ‘painting’ is being used as an adjective (to describe the gloves).

  • ‘The painting is beautiful’ – the present participle ‘painting’ is being used as a noun (a peculiarity of English).

  • ‘I had been painting for hours’ – a compound form from the verb ‘to paint’ which uses two auxiliary verbs (‘had’ from ‘to have’, and ‘been’ from ‘to be’), and the present participle ‘painting’ to form the past perfect continuous tense.

Interestingly, even irregular verbs in English all have an ‘ing’ form (‘doing’, ‘being’, etc.).

In European Portuguese, the present participle is made up of ‘a’ plus the infinitive form of the verb. So ‘a trabalhar’ means ‘working’, ‘a escrever’ means ‘writing’, and ‘a discernir’ means ‘discerning’. This is true for both regular and irregular verbs.

In Brazilian Portuguese, the present participle always ends with the letters ‘ndo’. First conjugation (ar) verbs have the ending ‘ando’, second conjugation (er) verbs have ‘endo’, and third conjugation (ir) verbs use ‘indo’. So ‘trabalhando’ means ‘working’, ‘escrevendo’ means ‘writing’, and ‘discernindo’ means ‘discerning’. As with English, even the irregular verbs follow the same pattern, which makes it nice and easy to form words like ‘tendo’ (having), ‘fazendo’ (making or doing), ‘indo’ (going) etc.

In Portuguese, the present participle is never used as an adjective – instead, they usually follow the noun with the words ‘de’ + the infinitive of the verb (e.g. ‘luvas de pintar’ – ‘painting gloves’, where ‘pintar’ is the infinitive ‘to paint’).

Also worthy of note, is that although in English we sometimes use the present participle as a noun, this is never done in Portuguese. So whereas we might refer to ‘a painting’, you would never refer to ‘um pintando’ – you would have to use the correct noun form, which is ‘uma pintura’.

Here are the Portuguese translations of the 3 examples given above (note that only one of them uses the present participle. This is because, as noted above, in Portuguese the present participle is only used as a verb (to form continuous tenses):

  • ‘Essas são as minhas luvas de pintar’ – ‘These are my painting gloves’ - the preposition ‘de’ followed by the infinitive is used instead of the present participle.

  • ‘A pintura é bonita’ – ‘The painting is beautiful’ – a separate noun form is used, again avoiding the present participle.

  • ‘Eu tinha estado a pintar durante horas.’ (EU) or ‘Eu tinha estado pintando durante horas.’ (BR) - ‘I had been painting for hours’ - the present participle is used here (shown in bold) to create the compound verb form of the past perfect continuous tense.

The Past Participle

The past participle can have irregular forms, and can easily be confused with the preterite. The principle is the same as for the present participle though – a past participle can be used as an adjective, but it refers to a past or completed action or description. When used as a verb (rather than as an adjective), it aways requires an auxiliary verb (usually either ‘to have’ or ‘to be’).

Unlike the present participle, which is not used adjectively in Portuguese, the past participle is used as an adjective in Portuguese – in the same way that it is used in English.

In English, past participles usually end in ‘ed’ and are also usually (but not always) spelt the same as the preterite forms. If you’re not sure whether you are dealing with a preterite or a past participle, just remember that if used with an auxiliary verb, or as an adjective, it must be the past participle. For example:

Comparison of preterite and past participle in English

She completed the work.


She has completed the work.

Past participle (compound verb with the auxiliary ‘has’ from ‘to have’).

The completed work.

Past participle used as an adjective.

I have done all that he asked of me.

Past participle (irregular).

I did all that he asked of me.

Preterite (irregular).

Note: a common grammatical error in English (for verbs where the preterite and past participle are not the same) is to use the past participle without an auxiliary, or in a place where the preterite should be used (for example: ‘I done my homework’).

In Portuguese, regular past participles end in ‘ado’ for first conjugation verbs, and ‘ido’ for both second and third conjugation verbs (‘er’ verbs do not use ‘edo’ as you might expect). As this is completely different to the formation of the Portuguese preterite, the two are less likely to be confused in Portuguese than they are in English.

When used adjectively, to describe a feminine noun, ‘ado’ becomes ‘ada’, and ‘ido’ becomes ‘ida’, – e.g. ‘Ela é a preferida’.

I am sure you will be delighted to know, that some Portuguese verbs have more than one past participle (one regular, and one irregular). In fact, some verbs have only regular past participles, some have only irregular ones, and others have both regular and irregular! Where there are 2 past participle forms to choose from, the irregular one is used only when combined with one of the auxiliary verbs: ser, estar, or ficar.

So, ‘foi aceite’ means ‘it was accepted’ (‘aceite’ is the irregular past participle, and is used here because the preceding verb is ‘foi’, which comes from ‘ser’. In Brazil, the irregular past participle is ‘aceito’), but ‘tenho aceitado’ means ‘I have accepted’ (‘aceitado’ is the regular past participle, and is used here because the auxiliary verb is ‘tenho’ from ‘ter’).

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