[1.] [Etymonline'] from particeps "sharing, partaking" (see participation). In grammatical sense, the Latin translates Greek metokhe "sharer, partaker," and the notion is of a word "partaking" of the nature of both a noun and an adjective.

Source: p 32, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar (2005) by Huddleston and Pullum

[2.] Traditionally (for example, in the grammar of Latin), ... a participle is one [a verb-form] that is functionally similar to an adjective.

2 above only states that a gerund resembles an adjective, NOT a noun.
So how do participles partake of the nature of both a noun and an adjective?
Strangely, 3 below instead mentions only a verb, and NOT a noun.

[3.] [Source:] The OED explains that the Latin term was used to refer to “a non-finite part of a verb” that shares “some characteristics of a verb and some of an adjective.”  

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    I think Etymonline got it mixed up, and the "sharing characteristics of a verb and an adjective" is the correct explanation. If I remember correctly, classical grammarians didn't distinguish adjectives from nouns as a category. – brass tacks May 5 '15 at 23:07
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    Once again, bear in mind that most grammatical terms come from Classical Latin (or Greek or Sanskrit of the same vintage), and they are just Names. They don't mean anything, except as the grammarian using them intends them to; and their etymology is irrelevant to their modern meanings. – jlawler May 6 '15 at 0:23

"Verb and adjective" is correct. Etymonline has got it wrong.


Both nouns and adjectives are called 'nominal parts of speech', from Latin nomen 'noun', the Latin for 'adjective' being 'nomen adiectivum'. I guess that can be the source of the Etymonline confusion. Actually, participles partake of verbs and adjectives, while infinitives and gerunds partake of verbs and nouns.

  • I think you mean "participles partake of verbs and adjectives". – brass tacks May 5 '15 at 23:33
  • The reason why adjective is called a "nominal part of speech" is because the Roman grammarians grouped them together. In Latin adjectives can be used as nouns, and have identical inflection, though no fixed gender. The space taken today by "adjective" in the Eight Parts was filled by "participle", of which Latin had a large number. In modern English we simply consider participles as untensed verb forms with various uses. But in English adjectives are much farther from nouns than in Latin (or modern German, for that matter). – jlawler May 6 '15 at 16:58

While the others are correct that the normal description is that participles are "verbal adjectives" (an unhelpful and almost meaningless explanation in my opinion), it is worth noting that participles can also be used substantivally, i.e., as a nominal in its own right. So in Greek ὁ λεγων means 'the one who is speaking' or 'the speaking one', and the same happens in English with gerunds like the happening.

We should expect this across languages all around the world. There are two primary word classes: nouns and verbs; generally the more time-stable and the more time-variable. Some languages have distinct modifier classes like adjectives and adverbs, but many do not, with those modifiers being formally in the noun or verb class. Word derivation can change the class of words. Participles and infinitives are two ways in which the variability of a verb is decreased or removed, so that a verb which meant an action gets turned into a word which conveys the idea of the action. The idea of an action is then used as a modifier for either a noun or a verb, but just as with other modifiers, it can then also be used by itself as a nominal in its own right.

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