Monday, June 13, 2011

Boring or bored? Adjectives ending in -ed or -ing

In English there is an important group of adjectives that are derived from verbs. They are formed by adding a suffix to the roots of verbs. These suffixes are -ed and -ing. For example, from the verb to relax you can have two adjectives: relaxed and relaxing.

These adjectives are, in fact, present participles (-ing) and past participles (-ed) of verbs that are used as adjectives. Have a look at these sentences:
He relaxed by the pool (past tense of relax)
As soon as he got home, he felt relaxed ( adjective)
She is relaxing in a spa. (present participle of the verb to relax)
It's quite relaxing to have a massage. (adjective)
Image: 'Rama Day Spa

Bear in mind that verbs express action or state, whereas adjectives qualify nouns or pronouns, that is, they tell us what someone or something is like or how a person feels.

Some participles have almost entirely lost their verbal connections and are regarded primarily as adjectives. These can be modified by the adverb very: “I am very tired today”. “That's a very interesting book”. Others still retain strong verbal associations and cannot be modified by the adverb very. Some other suitable adverb must be used: “We had to leave the beach in a hurry because of the swiftly rising tide” (the very rising tide is not possible).

But we have two adjectives formed with the same root of the verb. Why? There must be a difference in meaning, otherwise the language would use just one word, not two. Adjectives ending in -ing are “active”, so as to speak: they perform the action of the verb and mean “having this effect”, whereas those ending in -ed are “passive”, that is, they receive the action and mean “affected in this way”. Compare:
“The exhibition was quite interesting”
“I was quite interested in the exhibition”
Image: 'La Fée Electricité

In the first example, we mean that the exhibition interests people. In the second sentence I feel an interest in the exhibition. In fact, both sentences give the same idea but from two different points of view: what was the exhibition like in the first sentence and how I felt about it in the second one.

Learning the difference between these two types of adjectives can be difficult for foreign speakers, especially when they are translated by the same word in their language. It's the case of bored/ boring for Spanish speakers because they both translate as “aburrido”. In order to get it right, here's a clue: if you mean that something bores you, that thing is boring and you feel bored. I hope you will never feel embarrassed like a Spanish student who went to England and when asked if he was having a good time he said “I am boring”, and the friendly English lady he was staying with kindly replied “No, you are not boring, you are just bored”.
Image: 'Bored

Most adjectives ending in -ed are pronounced as /d/ /t/ or /ɪd/ according to the rule that we saw in another entry in this blog, but a few of them have a special pronunciation: the last sylable is pronounced /ɪd/ instead of /d/ or /t/. These are: blessed, crooked, dogged, learned, ragged, wicked, wretched, naked, aged.

You will find a complete list of adjectives ending in -ed and -ing here.

And now a few exercises to revise what we have learnt:


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