ekmw asked: Excuse me, I have one tiny question. I searched your Google bar, and didn’t find what I’m looking for. When is it more appropriate to use ate VS eaten? One of my friends asked, and I was literally stumped. Thanks, WW!

It might help to know that to eat (or just plain eat) is an irregular verb in English. It might also help to learn some vocabulary terms regarding verb conjugation, so we’ll do that as we go along.

First off, ate is the preterite of the verb eat.

PreteriteA simple past tense or form.

The preterite conjugation for the verb to eat (from Reverso) is:

I ate
you ate
he/she/it ate
we ate
you ate
they ate

A few examples:

If you’re negating something in the preterite tense of the verb to eat, you use did not (or didn’t) + the infinitive (eat). So, let’s have those example sentences again, this time in the negative!

Use the preterite tense to express “an action in the past taking place once, never, several times. It can also be used for actions taking place one after another or in the middle of another action.” (x)

Get it? Awesome! On to eaten!

Eaten is a past participle. As such, it is one half of two different conjugations. It is paired with have or has to become have/has eaten for the conjugation of present perfect, and it is also paired with had to become had eaten for the conjugation of past perfect.

Present PerfectA perfective tense used to express action completed in the present.

The present perfect conjugation for the verb to eat (from Reverso) is:

I have eaten
you have eaten
he/she/it has eaten
we have eaten
you have eaten
they have eaten

A few examples:

These are pretty simple to make negative. All you’re doing is making the have or the has negative and leaving the eaten part alone. Observe:

Use the present perfect tense to express “an action that is still going on or that stopped recently, but has an influence on the present.” (x)

Now let’s talk about eat and past perfect.

Past Perfect: A verb tense denoting an action completed prior to some past point of time specified or implied.

The past perfect conjugation for the verb to eat (from Reverso) is:

had eaten
you had eaten 
he/she/it had eaten 
we had eaten 
you had eaten 
they had eaten

A few examples:

Creating a negative statement in past perfect is a piece of cake. Just make had negative and you’re done! Take a look at the negative versions of the above example sentences:

Use past perfect to express an action taking place before a certain time in the past.” (x)

Basically, ate is the past tense of to eat. Eaten is the past participle of to eat and is used in both the present perfect tense and the past perfect tense. Both ate and eaten denote events in the past, but their uses in English are, while sometimes subtle, definitely different.

Further Reading:

Thank you for your question! If you have any comments or other questions about writing, you can message us here!


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