Participial Adjectives

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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 equivalent viagra naturel. 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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