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Participial Adjectives

Participles, besides being an important element of the progressive forms of tenses (present participles) and of the passive voice (past participles), can also function as adjectives. So far, you have encountered participles in passive structures or as predicate adjectives. But they can also serve as adjectives that modify nouns directly.

Present participles are formed by adding the suffix -ing to the base form of the verb (running, speaking, developing, and so on). The present participle conveys an active meaning because the noun it modifies is “doing something.”

  • It is a confusing map. (The map confuses the driver, because it is not clear.)
  • It is a boring story. (The story bores the children.)

Past participles are formed from both regular and irregular verbs. If the verb is regular, the past participle has an -ed ending, identical to the simple past-tense form.

  • call ~ called
  • interest ~ interested
  • load ~ loaded
  • ship ~ shipped

Irregular verbs form their past participles in a variety of ways. Some have a vowel change in the base form of the word, and many end in -en.

  • break ~ broken
  • see ~ seen
  • speak ~ spoken
  • take ~ taken

Still others end in -t, and many of these have a vowel change as well.

  • bring ~ brought
  • dream ~ dreamed OR dreamt
  • feel ~ felt
  • sleep ~ slept

Some participles alter the appearance of the base form only slightly.

  • build ~ built
  • ran ~ run
  • say ~ said

And there are even past participles that are identical to the base form.

  • come ~ come
  • cut ~ cut
  • put ~ put
  • shut ~ shut

No matter how they are formed, past participles can be used as modifiers, but with a passive meaning.

  • He is a confused driver. (The driver is confused by the map, because it is not clear.)
  • They are bored children. (The children are bored by the story.)

Understanding the difference between present participles (active meaning) and past participles (passive meaning) is important in order to form correct sentences with modifiers appropriate to the meaning of the sentences. In the following pairs of examples, compare the difference in meaning of the present participle with that of the past participle.

  • John was tearful when he saw what the damaging winds had done.
  • John was tearful when he saw all the damaged homes.
  • She observed the purifying action of the chemicals on the water.
  • She only drinks purified water.

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