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Adjectives ending in -ed and -ing

 
 
 

Grammatical form

It was a tiring journey.
We were all very tired.
We had fried eggs for breakfast.

 
 

Participial adjectives ending in ed / ing

Many adjectives that end in -ed and -ing are examples of participial adjectives. They have this name because they are formed from the past participles and present participles of verbs. Here are some examples

bored / boring (verb: to bore)
surprised / surprising (verb: to surprise)
tired / tiring (verb: to tire)

There are many common pairs like this. Choosing the correct one often confuses students.

(Not all -ed and -ing adjectives are participial adjectives. For example, the adjective talented; there is no verb to talent and no adjective talenting.)
 

Adjectives that describe feelings

The examples above all relate to feelings. The -ed form describes the person or thing that experiences the feeling; the -ing form describes the person or thing that causes the feeling.

Simple grammar books sometimes say that the -ed form is for people and
the -ing form is for things. This is because it is usually things that cause people's feelings. This is often true, but not always. Look at these examples:

She was tired after the long walk.

The long walk (a thing) caused her (a person) to be tired.

He was surprised when he saw his results.

His results (a thing) caused him (a person) to be surprised.

Another way to express these examples would be:

The long walk was tiring.
His results were surprising.

What about these examples?

Her son asks a lot of questions. He is tiring.

This time it is a person (her son) who causes a person (her) to be tired.

Doris never wants to go out. She's so boring.

In this case, again, it is a person (Doris) who causes a person (me) to feel something.

Another way to look at this is to be aware that you can make a sentence with a verb to express the same idea (although this may not be the most natural way of expressing it).

The walk tired her.
His results surprised him.
Her son tires her.
Doris bores me.

In these examples, you will notice that the subjects: the walk, his results, her son and Doris, take the -ing adjective, and the objects: her, him, her and me, take the -ed adjective.

We can see that participial adjectives show the subject and object of an action, not simply people and things, although it is true that the subjects are often things and the objects are usually people.
 

Adjectives that describe ongoing and completed processes

In the example at the top of the page We had fried eggs for breakfast, we are clearly not talking about feelings, but about a process: frying.

A melting ice-cream and melted ice-cream both come from the verb to melt, but the first describes an ongoing process, the second a complete one.

Many adjective pairs for describing ongoing and completed processes have an irregular object form rather than an -ed form because the verbs they come from are irregular:

freezing / frozen
falling / fallen
breaking / broken

 

Adjective or verb?

Students sometimes find it hard to decide if an -ed or -ing form is an adjective or a verb. Look at these examples:

I have been interested in travel all my life.
Travel has always interested me.
She has surprised everyone this term.
We have been surprised by the change in her behaviour.
The change in her behaviour has surprised everybody.

In some of these examples, the -ed form is an adjective, in others it is a verb.
How to tell which? With the adjectives, it is often possible to add the adverb very, but not with the verbs:

I have been very interested in travel all my life.
Travel has always interested me.
She has surprised everyone this term.
We have been very surprised by the change in her behaviour.
The change in her behaviour has surprised everybody.

ESL quizzes for Adjectives ending in -ed and -ing
quiz
Adjectives: ~ed / ~ing
Twelve-question MC quiz

ESL lesson plans

How Donald Trump got rich: a tale of three Trumps

US Election ESL worksheet 1 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 2 Donald Trump worksheet 3 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 4 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 5 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 6
B1 / B2 Complete lesson Skills: split reading; discussion; role play Vocabulary: business and economics

Download A Tale of Three Trumps for B1/B2 (PDF)
C1 Complete lesson Skills: split reading; discussion; Grammar: participle clauses

Download A Tale of Three Trumps for C1 (PDF)
 

US Election Special 2016

US Election ESL worksheet 1 US Election ESL worksheet 2 US Election ESL worksheet 3 US Election ESL worksheet 4
B2/C1 Complete lesson Vocabulary: politics, elections; skills: discussing elections and issues.

Download Politics and the US Election (PDF)
 

Wear high heels or go home: gender discrimination at work

Gender descrimination ESL worksheet 1 Gender descrimination ESL worksheet 2 Gender descrimination ESL worksheet 3
B2/C1 Complete lesson Vocabulary work clothes; skills: gender discrimination; grammar: reported speech.

Download Workplace gender discrimination (PDF)
 

English grammar notes

Comparison with as...as

Comprehensive grammar reference notes, illustrated.
Grammar notes on comparison with as..as 1 Grammar notes on comparison with as..as 2 Grammar notes on comparison with as..as 3
Download English grammar notes: comparison with as...as (PDF)