The past participle is one of the non-finite verb forms in Spanish. It has several uses in Spanish.
- It combines with some form of the verb haber to form the compound tenses, such as he hablado, había comido or habré vivido. When used this way, the past participle is invariable.
- It can serve as a predicate adjective following some form of estar to describe the state of the subject, as in Ana está aburrida = "Anne is bored". When used this way, the past participle agrees in gender and number with the subject of estar.
- It can serve as a predicate adjective following some form of ser to describe a quality of the subject as in José es aburrido = "Joseph is boring". When used this way, the past participle agrees in gender and number with the subject of ser.
- It can function as an adjective identifying either the state or a quality of the noun it modifies, or function as a noun representing something that has either the corresponding state or quality: "el hombre aburrido" = "the bored/boring man", "las aburridas"->"the bored/boring ones". When used this way, the past participle agrees in gender and number with the noun that it modifies or replaces.
- It combines with some form of the verb ser to form the passive voice.
You might notice that ser + past participle has two possible interpretations, but most of the time there is little or no room for misunderstanding.
- Verbs that cannot have any type of object (direct object or indirect object) cannot be used in the true passive voice.
- Often one or the other interpretation is the "obvious" interpretation because the other interpretation is significantly less plausible within the current context.
- If both interpretations are equally plausible then the speaker or writer normally will say or writing something different or something additional in order to make the intended meaning clear.
How to form past participles
While most verbs have regular past participle forms, a significant number of verbs have irregular past participle forms and a small number of verbs have both a regular past participle form and an irregular past participle form that are used in different contexts.
- Regular past participles of "-ar" verbs consist of the infinitive stem followed by the ending -ado: hablar->hablado
- Regular past participles of "-er" and "-ir" verbs consist of the infinitive stem followed by "-ido": comer->comido, vivir->vivido
- However, when the verb stem ends in one of the vowel letters "a", "e", "o" or "u", the ending is spelled "-ído": oír->oído, caer->caído, leer->leído.
A significant number of verbs have irregular past participles. There are several patterns for irregular past participles and a few past participles that are irregular in unique ways. For example:
- absolver (and all verbs ending in -solver): absuelto
- cubrir (and all verbs ending in cubrir): cubierto
- decir (and most verbs ending in -decir): dicho
- escribir (and all verbs ending in -scribir): escrito
- freír-> frito
- hacer (and compounds of -hacer or -facer): hecho, satisfacer->satisfecho.
- imprimir: impreso
- morir: muerto
- poner (and all verbs ending in -poner): puesto
- romper: roto
- ver (and compounds such as prever): visto
- volver (and all verbs ending in -volver): vuelto
A few verbs have separate adjectival and verbal participles: for example está despierto porque lo/le he despertado = "he's awake because I've woken him". In the following examples the verbal participle is given first:
- absorber: absorbido/absorto
- bendecir: bendecido/bendicho
- confesar: confesado/confeso
- confundir: confundido/confuso
- despertar: despertado/despierto
- elegir: elegido/electo
- maldecir: maldecido/maldito
- prender: prendido/preso
- presumir: presumido/presunto
- proveer: proveído/provisto
- soltar: soltado/suelto
- suspender: suspendido/suspenso
A few irregular past participles are more widely used in Latin American than in Spain, either because they are now obsolete in Spain or they are used only in set phrases in Spain. In the following list the "standard form" is given first. Some Latin Americans may not accept the use of the "standard" forms.
- convencer: convencido/convicto
- corromper: corrompido/corrupto
- describir: descrito/descripto
- dividir: dividido/diviso
- inscribir: inscrito/inscripto
- prescribir: prescrito/prescripto
Primary stress and object pronouns
The primary stress (or tonic accent) of past participles is always on the second-to-last syllable. Written accents are used only to show that the stressed vowel "i" does not form a diphthong with a preceding vowel letter "a", "e" or "o": reído (pronounced /re-í-do/, not /réi-do/), caído (pronounced /ca-í-do/, not /cái-do/).
In modern Spanish one generally does not add object pronouns to the end of past participles, although this occurred historically and is currently used occasionally in very flowery language in parts of Latin America, especially when omitting the auxiliary from a compound perfect form. For example: donde había nacido y criádose = "where he had been born and brought up", which today normally would be expessed donde había nacido y se había criado.
Adding any object pronoun to a past participle requires placing a written accent mark on the stressed syllable of the participle, as demonstrated in the previous example: criado but criádose.