I have a big confusion about Spanish grammar in the following sentence :

creo que todavía está manchada

Our teacher tells us it's a past participle. The Freeling Parser also tells me the same thing, it considers it to be a singular feminine past participle.

Therefore, my question is simple : How can we know if it's an adjective or past participle?

2 Answers 2


Past participles behave as adjectives (with a change in number and gender to agree with the noun they refer to) in the passive voice and with copulative verbs like "estar" or "parecer". In the passive voice, we don't say they are adjectives but instead the passive form of the verb, in this case "manchar":

  • La camisa fue manchada. (Much more usual: La camisa se manchó.) Compare with the past participle of a similar verb, "ensuciar": La camisa fue ensuciada. (Much more usual: La camisa se ensució.)

Past participles are adjectives proper when they function as subject complements or modifiers.

  • La camisa está manchada. (In this structure, we would use the adjective "sucia" rather than the participle "ensuciada".)

  • No puedo usar la camisa manchada. (Same as above.)

Past participles remain invariable only in perfect tenses (where the passive voice with "ser" is not used):

  • Ha manchado la camisa.
  • La camisa se ha manchado.


  • La camisa ha sido manchada.
  • thanks for the great answer. if they behave like adjectives, why are they still considered as past participles in parsers and grammar classes ?
    – Mintou
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 23:45
  • @user24618 Because their origin is verbal. Same thing happens in English. In Spanish, the past participle is adjectival, the gerund is adverbial, and the infinitive is nominal: La camisa manchada (Cf. la camisa sucia[->adjective]) / Manchando la camisa no conseguirás el trabajo (Cf. De ese modo[->adverbial] no conseguirás el trabajo) / Manchar la camisa fue un error (Cf. El hecho[-> noun] de manchar la camisa fue un error)
    – Gustavson
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 23:58

In this case, it adds some meaning to the verb, therefore it is a participle. Estar in most of the cases, goes with participle. e.g.: está cogido/ roto/ manchada/...

Participles, usually end in ado (ada), ido (ida)... as a general use, if it ends in any of this, it will probably be participle, but there are some verbs that are not regular (romper -roto).

For information about estar: https://dle.rae.es/estar. This is a very difficult verb to understand, and understanding its meaning and its uses is hard.

  • 1
    Hello and thank you for the answer :) However I still don't get how to distinguish it, is there a technique ?
    – Mintou
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 11:23
  • as I explained, you can have a look at the end of the word, if it is -ado, -ada, -ido, -ida, it usually is a participle
    – Iria
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 11:27
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    Indeed, this is the descriptive rule for past participle formation in spanish, but we cannot make a sentence such as "creo que todavía está.", therefore manchada seems to be an adjective that modifies the subject (una camiseta).What justifies this being a p.p more than a fact of "it is usuallly the case" ?
    – Mintou
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 11:35
  • experience, there is no answer to that, have you looked at the RAE link? Ser/estar are two complicated verbs, Usually, it means to be, etre (in french)... as you can see, 2 verbs for one. It is highly complicated, but there is no rule for that, you need to asses the meaning of the sentence
    – Iria
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 11:38
  • 1
    No I completely get why we use estar and not ser here. Sorry but I don't understand you, maybe we're mixing things ; I speak quite spanish fluently and already would use estar in that case, therefore I don't understand what experience you are talking about. The only thing I understood is that as a rule 1) estar + *ido -> always is a past participle 2) It's very complicated. Correct me if I'm wrong But I reckon there's a logical explanation behind it other than experience :D
    – Mintou
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 11:50

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