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English grammar notes - adjectives - ed / ing

 
 

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

 

Participial adjectives ending in ed / ing

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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 and choosing the correct one often confuses students.
(However, note that not all '-ed' and 'ing' adjectives are participial adjectives formed from a verb. For example in the case of the adjective 'talented', there is no verb 'to talent' and no adjective 'talenting'.)

 

Two kinds of -ed / -ing adjectives: (1) adjectives that describe feelings

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The examples above all relate to feelings. The '-ed' form describes the person or thing that receives 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 a person and
the '-ing' form is for a thing. 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 would be:
The long walk was tiring.
His results were surprising.

But how about these?

Her son asks a lot of questions. He is tiring. She is tired 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. I am bored. 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 it may not always 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.

So '-ed' and '-ing' adjectives often 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.

 

Two kinds of -ed / -ing adjectives: (2) adjectives that describe ongoing and completed processes

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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?

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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.
With the adjectives, it is 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.



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