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Participial adjectives


5.7 Participial Adjectives

We saw in an earlier section that many adjectives can be identified by their endings. Another major subclass of adjectives can also be formally distinguished by endings, this time by -ed or -ing endings:   

 

 

-ed form

computerized, determined, excited, misunderstood, renowned, self-centred, talented, unknown

-ing form

annoying, exasperating, frightening, gratifying, misleading, thrilling, time-consuming, worrying

 

 

Remember that some -ed forms, such as misunderstood and unknown, do not end in -ed at all. This is simply a cover term for this form. Adjectives with -ed or -ing endings are known as PARTICIPIAL ADJECTIVES, because they have the same endings as verb participles (he was training for the Olympics, he had trained for the Olympics). In some cases there is a verb which corresponds to these adjectives (to annoy, to computerize, to excite, etc), while in others there is no corresponding verb (*to renown, *to self-centre, *to talent). Like other adjectives, participial adjectives can usually be modified by very, extremely, or less (very determined, extremely self-centred, less frightening, etc). They can also take more and most to form comparatives and superlatives (annoying, more annoying, most annoying). Finally, most participial adjectives can be used both attributively and predicatively:   

 

 

Attributive

Predicative

That's an irritating noise

That noise is irritating

This is an exciting film

This film is exciting

He's a talented footballer

That footballer is talented

 

 

Many participial adjectives, which have no corresponding verb, are formed by combining a noun with a participle:  
 

alcohol-based chemicals  
battle-hardened soldiers  
drug-induced coma  
energy-saving devices  
fact-finding mission  
purpose-built accommodation 

These, too, can be used predicatively (the chemicals are alcohol-based, the soldiers were battle-hardened, etc).   

When participial adjectives are used predicatively, it may sometimes be difficult to distinguish between adjectival and verbal uses:   
 

[1] the workers are striking 

In the absence of any further context, the grammatical status of striking is indeterminate here. The following expansions illustrate possible adjectival [1a] and verbal [1b] readings of [1]:   
 

[1a] the workers are very striking in their new uniforms (=`impressive', `conspicuous')   

[1b] the workers are striking outside the factory gates (=`on strike') 

Consider the following pair:  
 

[2] the noise is annoying  
[3] the noise is annoying the neighbours 

In [2], we can modify annoying using very:  
 

[2a] the noise is (very) annoying 

But we cannot modify it in the same way in [3]:  
 

[3a] *the noise is (very) annoying the neighbours 

The acceptability of [2a] indicates that annoying is an adjective in this construction. In [3], the verbal nature of annoying is indicated by the fact that we cannot add very , as in [3a]. It is further indicated by the presence of the neighbours (the direct object) after annoying. Notice also that we can turn [3] into a passive sentence (the neighbours were annoyed by the noise). In this case, annoying is the main verb of the sentence, and it is preceded by the progressive auxiliary verb is. In [2], there is only one verb, the main verb is.   

We can distinguish between the following pairs using the same criteria:  

 

 

Adjectival

Verbal

This film is terrifying

This film is terrifying the children

Your comments are alarming 

Your comments are alarming the people

The defendant's answers were misleading 

The defendant's answers were misleading the jury

 

 

We can also identify -ing forms as verbal if it is possible to change the -ing form into a non-progressive verb:  

 

 

Progressive

Non-progressive

The children are dancing 

The children dance

My eyes are stinging

My eyes sting

The wood is drying 

The wood dries 

 

 

Compare these changes from progressive to non-progressive with the following:  

 

 

the work is rewarding 

~*the work rewards

the job was exacting

~*the job exacted

your paper was interesting

~*your paper interested 

 

 

In these instances, the inability to produce fully acceptable non-progressive sentences indicates adjectival use.   

Similar indeterminacy occurs with -ed forms. Again, we can generally use very to determine whether the -ed word is adjectival or verbal:   

 

 

The bomb was detonated

~*The bomb was very detonated

This document is hand-written

~*This document is very hand-written

My house was built in only twelve weeks

~*My house was very built in only twelve weeks 

Ten people were killed 

~*Ten people were very killed 

 

 

The inability to supply very in these cases indicates a verbal rather than an adjectival construction. However, this test is less reliable with -ed forms than it is with -ing forms, since very can sometimes be supplied in both the adjectival and the verbal constructions:   

 

 

Adjectival 

Verbal

I was embarrassed  
I was very embarrassed 

I was embarrassed by your behaviour 
I was very embarrassed by your behaviour

She was surprised  
She was very surprised 

She was surprised by my reaction  
She was very surprised by my reaction 

 

 

The presence of a by-agent phrase (by your behaviour, by my reaction) indicates that the -ed form is verbal. Conversely, the presence of a complement, such as a that-clause, indicates that it is adjectival. Compare the following two constructions:   

 

 

Adjectival:

The jury was convinced that the defendant was innocent

Verbal:

The jury was convinced by the lawyer's argument

 

 

Here are some further examples of adjectival constructions (with complements) and verbal constructions (with by-agent phrases):   

 

 

Adjectival 

Verbal

I was delighted to meet you again 

I was delighted by his compliments

John is terrified of losing his job

John is terrified by his boss

I was frightened that I'd be late

I was frightened by your expression

I was disappointed to hear your decision

I was disappointed by your decision 

 

 

If the -ed form is verbal, we can change the passive construction in which it occurs into an active one:   

 

 

Passive:

I was delighted by his compliments

Active:

His compliments delighted me

 

  

For more on active and passive constructions, see...  
  

As we have seen, discriminating between adjectival and verbal constructions is sometimes facilitated by the presence of additional context, such as by-agent phrases or adjective complements. However, when none of these indicators is present, grammatical indeterminacy remains. Consider the following examples from conversational English:   

And you know if you don't know the simple command how to get out of something you're sunk [S1A-005-172]  

But that's convenient because it's edged with wood isn't it [S1A-007-97] 

With -ed and -ing participial forms, there is no grammatical indeterminacy if there is no corresponding verb. For example, in the job was time-consuming, and the allegations were unfounded, the participial forms are adjectives.   

Similarly, the problem does not arise if the main verb is not be. For example, the participial forms in this book seems boring, and he remained offended are all adjectives. Compare the following:   
 

John was depressed   
John felt depressed 


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