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How to Teach -ED/-ING Adjectives: 9 Simple Steps

August 16, 2012

How many times have you heard students say “I am exciting” or “I am boring”? Grasping when to use ‑ED and ‑ING endings with participial adjectives is very confusing. That is, the adjectives are confusing, and the students are confused!

Even after countless written exercises, students often make mistakes with these “feeling” adjective endings while speaking. Here are some teaching tips to help clarify the situation for your students.

1. Sentence Patterns

Start by reminding students of the two adjective patterns used in English sentences:

Be + Adj

  • The book is interesting.

In this example, the adjective interesting describes the noun book.

Adj + N

  • This is an interesting book.

In this example, the adjective interesting describes the noun book.

2. Feelings

Now you can remind your students that ‑ED/‑ING adjectives are used to describe feelings.

Give some examples, such as interested/interesting, bored/boring, excited/exciting, tired/tiring, etc.

3. -ING Adjectives: Be + Adj

You use the ‑ING ending when the noun is the REASON or CAUSE of the “feeling” adjective. In other words, -ING adjectives show why a person is feeling a certain way. -ING adjectives are used primarily with nouns that are THINGS.:

  • This movie is boring. (The noun movie is the REASON/CAUSE of my feeling of boredom.)
  • My life is exciting. (The noun life is the REASON/CAUSE of my feeling of excitement.)

4. -ING Adjectives: Adj + N

  • This is a boring movie. (The noun movie is the REASON/CAUSE of my feeling of boredom.)
  • I have an exciting life. (The noun life is the REASON/CAUSE of my feeling of excitement.)

5. -ED Adjectives: Be + Adj

You use the ‑ED ending to show the RESULT or EFFECT. In other words, ‑ED adjectives describe how a person is feeling. -ED adjectives are used primarily with nouns that are PEOPLE.

  • She is bored. (The adjective bored describes how she is feeling.)
  • My friend is excited. (The adjective excited describes how my friend is feeling.)

6. -ED Adjectives: Adj + N

You can mention to students that this pattern is possible, but not often used with ‑ED adjectives.

  • A bored girl fell asleep on the bus. (The adjective bored describes how the girl is feeling.)
  • My excited friend can’t wait to go on vacation. (The adjective excited describes how my friend is feeling.)

7. Cause & Effect

For further clarification, you can give some examples of CAUSE and EFFECT (i.e., the REASON and RESULT) in sentence pairs. It really helps students to see the adjectives side by side like this.

  • This is a boring movie. I am bored. (The movie CAUSES my feeling; the EFFECT is that I feel bored.)
  • I have an exciting life. I am excited. (My life is the REASON for my feeling; the RESULT is that I feel excited.)

8. Exceptions

Here’s where it gets tricky for students! Can you use ‑ING with a PERSON instead of a THING? Unfortunately, yes, if the person is the CAUSE of the feeling.

  • The teacher is confusing. The students are confused. (The teacher CAUSES the confusion, perhaps by not explaining something clearly, so the EFFECT is that the students feel confused.)
  • The artist is interesting. We are interested in him. (The artist, because of his talent, is the REASON for our interest; we are interested in him and his art as a RESULT).

Make sure you explain to students that when they say “I am boring,” it actually means that they are uninteresting people, not that they are feeling bored!

9. Advanced

If you have higher-level students, you may wish to point out that we have several verbs in English besides “Be” that you can use to indicate how you’re feeling. Some examples include: feel, seem, look, appear, etc.

  • I am confused.
  • She feels confused.
  • He seems confused.
  • They appear confused.

Here’s hoping your students are both interested and interesting!



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Comments (12)

Jerry (Guest)

Thanks! The idea of 'cause and effect' should make things clear for my students. I was looking for a good way to explain this topic, and this is definitely it. :)

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Happy to hear it, Jerry! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Francis Kasibante(Guest)

Dear Tanya,appreciation is a rare flower that cannot easily grow in each and everybod'ys heart .Contrary to that saying,I wish to profoundly let you know that,I was appreciative please when I read your work.Your explanation is very clear.It really helped me a lot. Since learning does not end,not until someone ceases to breath,I definitely learnt a lot.

Stay blessed please.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thank you for your beautiful words, Francis! I appreciate you taking the time to tell me that my post helped you out. I'm so happy to hear it! :)

juan pablo(Guest)

I have a question, if i want to say that someone is sick (under the effects of a illness), why can not say: he is sicked? Why 'he is sick' is the correct way? There is an exception?
Thanks hopefully you fan help me

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Juan,

There are many ways to form adjectives in English, so sometimes it's hard to know which words will have certain endings. In the 'sick' word family, 'sick' is the adjective and 'sickness' is the noun. Here is a chart with common adjective endings:


Also, there aren't many participial adjectives (that take -ed/-ing endings). Most adjectives don't. Here is a list I found of common participle adjectives:


Hope that helps! :)

Alexis jugo(Guest)

Hello, i just wonder what rule applies to this example

Correct: I am not to make a scheduled travel plans.
Wrong: I am not to make a scheduling travel plans.

Are there just don't know how to explain this to my student. Thanks a lot.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Alexis,

You are correct to use 'scheduled' and not 'scheduling' here. These two adjectives are not feeling adjectives and don't follow the rules above, however. The adjective 'scheduled' is used for things that are already planned out (e.g., scheduled courses, a scheduled meeting, a scheduled speaker, etc.). It doesn't matter whether the subject is a person or a thing.

The adjective 'scheduling' is less common and refers to making plans that are not finalized (e.g., There was a scheduling conflict, so we couldn't have the meeting this week).

On a final note, in your example sentence, notice that 'plans' is plural, so you'd want to remove the 'a' from your sentence:
I am not to make scheduled travel plans. (or, more common: I'm not allowed to make scheduled travel plans.)

Suk (Guest)

Dear Tanya,
Please explain the ED and ING these two sentences.
He was an undeserving winner.
I don't like an underserved praise.
Thank you,

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Suk,

Undeserving/undeserved aren't really 'feeling' adjectives, so they don't follow the rules above. We use 'undeserving' for people—when someone didn't do anything to earn something good.
- He was an undeserving winner. (He didn't do his share of the work, for example)
- I feel as though I am undeserving of this award because I didn't do much to help.

We use 'undeserved' for things—when something wasn't earned by someone.
- I don't like undeserved praise. (The person getting praised didn't do anything to earn it.) (Also, notice 'praise' in a non-count noun, so we don't need the 'a' in your example.)
- That award was undeserved. The company made so many mistakes and were late getting the project finished. They shouldn't have won.

Hope that helps!

Arthur M.(Teacher)

This article is absolutely amazing.
I would love to have this article as an activity so that I could assign it to my students.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thank you, Arthur! You will find explanations, exercises, and activities for participial adjectives for your students in this Adjectives lesson: https://esllibrary.com/courses/88/lessons/2093

You can also find related materials in our Adjectives collection: https://esllibrary.com/collections/grammar/adjectives-adverbs/adjectives

Hope that helps and happy teaching!

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