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The past participles can confuse us in doing the Structure section of the TOEFL test. It happens because a past participle can be two functions, an adjective or a part of a verb. The past participle is the form of the verb that appears with have or be. Sometimes, it ends in –ed. But there are also many irregular past participles in English.

The family has purchased a television.

The poem was written by Paul.

In the first sentence above, purchased is a form of past participle. It is also a part of the verb because it is accompanied by has. In the second sentence, the past participle (written) is part of the verb because it is accompanied by was.

A past participle is an adjective when it is not accompanied by some form of be or have.

The television purchased yesterday was expensive.

The poem written by Paul appeared in the magazine.

In the first sentence purchased is an adjective rather. Why? Because it is not accompanied by a form of be or have (and there is a verb, was, later in the sentence). In the second sentence written is an adjective. Why? Because it is not accompanied by a form of be or have (and there is a verb, appeared, later in the sentence).

Look at the example below:

In the example above, the first few words of the sentence say that packages is the subject and mailed is either a complete verb or a past participle that needs a helping verb. But if you look further, you will find that the verb is will arrive. Then, you will recognize that mailed is a participial adjective and is therefore not part of the verb.

Answer (D) is the best answer to this question.


·         Answers (A) and (B) are incorrect because mailed is an adjective and does not need a helping verb such as have or were.

·         Answer (C) is incorrect because there is no need for the object them.  

So, you should always remember that:

A past participle often ends in -ed but there are also many irregular past participle. For many verbs, including -ed verbs, the simple past and the past participle are the same and can be easily confused. The -ed form of the verb can be (1) the simple past, (2) the past participle of a verb, or (3) an adjective.

Look at the following chart:


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