Let us begin with two sentences:
- The students, opening their books, learn about Latin.
- The students, who open their books, learn about Latin.
The first sentence uses a participle; the second uses a verb. Yet they both have the same meaning. Keep this in mind.
Participles are verbal adjectives. They describe a person, place, or things as acting, rather than stating the action. In the above sentences, number two states the action “The students, who open…;” sentence two describes the students as taking the action: “The students, opening….”
Because participles are verbal, they can do most of the things regular verbs can do. They take direct (or indirect) objects; they can be active or passive; they can take different tenses. English even has progressive tenses, which are formed by combining a form of to be and a participle. E.g. The students are opening their books and are learning.
Latin participles work much the same way as do English ones, in that they are directly formed from their verbal form. It is important to note, however, that Latin participles differ greatly from English in several key ways.
- Latin has only four participles: the present active, perfect passive, future active, and future passive.
- Latin is very strict with the sequence of tenses. English allows sentences such as Leaving the building, the man forgot his briefcase. Latin does not because the tenses of the participles are incompatible. More on this later.
- Latin has gender, number, and case, so participles, being adjectives, must decline to match.
- Latin participles may be substantives. They may not have an antecedent at all. (For more information on substantives, see the Glossary of Terms.)
There are no exercises for this lesson, for I have given no really practical information. The following lessons will provide more detailed information on participles.