Usually the present participle has an active meaning and the past participle has a passive meaning. However the past participle of intransitive verbs has an active meaning:

Der Lehrer, in Berlin angekommen, war 25 Jahre alt.

If the past participle of intransitive verbs convey the active meaning, then how is it different from the present participle?

Der Lehrer, in Berlin ankommend, war 25 Jahre alt.

Other related examples:

Der angekommene/ankommende Lehrer.

Das gesungene/singende Mädchen.

I feel both are correct but the past participle implies that the verb kommen/singen took place sometime before while the present participle implies a simultaneous action with other actions mentioned.


You are right in general.

Der Lehrer, in Berlin angekommen, war 25 Jahre alt.

The teacher, arrived in Berlin, was 25 years old.

It just happened a few days before or so.

Der Lehrer, in Berlin ankommend, war 25 Jahre alt.

The teacher, arriving in Berlin, was 25 years old.

It's happening in that very moment.

That's the corner case in which the gerund and the present participle fall together and the only occassion in which German has "something like a gerund".

Singend lief sie durch den Park.

Die Zeitung gelangweilt durchblätternd saß er auf der Bank.

If you think about it singend and durchblätternd answer the question how, so it's clearly a present participle (adjective/adverb).

Der angekommene/ankommende Lehrer (ist angekommen).

The teacher who arrived a short while ago/is arriving just now.

But that's again one of the verbs that build their perfect tense with ist.

Das singende Mädchen (hat gesungen).

The girl who sings just now.

The past participle makes no sense here. It's songs that are sung, not persons.

Das gesungene Lied (ist gesungen (worden)).

The song which has been sung a while ago or is sung just now.

  • I also felt that the past participle gesungen makes no sense so I put it deliberately just to be sure. My thought was that whether really all past participles of intransitive verbs can have an active meaning and singen as you know can be both transitive or intransitive, so if I am talking here about the intransitive singen, its past participle will still not have an active meaning. – user34346 Sep 22 '18 at 3:10
  • I beg your pardon? Did you mean past participle? – Janka Sep 22 '18 at 3:12
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    For transistive verbs, the past participle is passive, yes. For intransitive verbs, this makes no sense as there is no object which could become the subject. You need to use es or man then. Man ist angekommen. And this is indistiguishable from perfect tense. – Janka Sep 22 '18 at 3:20
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    No. That doesn't make sense either. You can talk to persons, and talk about persons, but not talk persons. To talk to is ansprechen and to talk about is besprechen. Also, sprechen can be transitive. – Janka Sep 22 '18 at 3:52
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    Sprechen is a bad example because it can be transitive. Apart from this, using the perfect participle in an active sense works only with verbs that form the perfect with sein. – RHa Sep 22 '18 at 16:03

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