Adjectives that Come from Verbs

Adjectives that come from verbs

One type of adjective derives from and gets its meaning from verbs. It is often called a participial adjective because it is formed from a verb’s participle form. To learn more about adjectives in general, see the adjective glossary entry.

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How to Form Adjectives that Come from Verbs

There are two types of participial adjectives: one comes from the verb’s present participle (-ing form) and the other comes from the past participle (-ed/-en form, but often irregular). Take the verbs confuse and fall as an example:

Two participle forms

While the forms derive from a verb (to confuse; to fall), they can function as adjectives to describe a noun. Note that not all verbs can do this; you can check whether the verb you want to use can describe a noun by searching for it in online published writing, books, magazines, newspapers, or academic journals.

Using participial adjectives can help reduce wordiness from multiple phrases. In this example, the adjective is bolded and the changed phrase is underlined.

  • Example: Making friends can help you create connections in case you need to copy notes or ask for information on something you might have missed.
  • Revision: Making friends can help you create connections in case you need to copy notes or ask for missed information.

The phrase “on something you might have missed” describes the information but is wordy. The only necessary word in this phrase is missed, and this single word can be placed in front of the noun information as an adjective. The revision “missed information” accurately describes the original sentence and uses fewer words, so it is preferable.

Meaning Difference between the Two Forms

As verbs, the -ing ending indicates progressive form (also known as the continuous form) and can only be used in the active voice. The -ed/-en verb ending indicates perfect form and is the form used for passive voice sentences. When verbs become adjectives, they no longer function as verbs but still have a verb-like meaning. As a general pattern, the -ing adjective has an active or continuous meaning, and the -ed/-en adjective has a passive or completed meaning.

When choosing which adjective form to use, ask yourself if you are (1) describing an active or passive meaning (only true for transitive verbs that can be made passive) and (2) describing a continuous or completed state.

Let’s start with the difference between confusing and confused, starting with their use as verbs. Ask yourself whether you want the active or passive meaning of confuse.

Adjective graphic of confuse

Thus, the choice between confusing and confused as an adjective is a similar decision for choosing active or passive voice for the verb form.

Now let’s look at the difference between falling and fallen, starting with their use as verbs. Ask yourself whether you want the continuous or completed meaning of fall.

Adjective graphic of fall

    Falling leaves image                  Fallen leaves image

Thus, the choice between falling (image on the left) and fallen (imge on the right) as an adjective is a similar decision for choosing the progressive or perfect form for the verb.

This same decision applies to more abstract and academic concepts although the meaning differences may be more subtle. Take increasing and increased for example.

Example: Nature provides climbers with this increasing opportunity.

Example: Nature provides climbers with this increased opportunity.

The first example means that the opportunity still has the potential to go up (continuous meaning). The second example means that the opportunity is higher compared to something else (completed meaning).

Which pattern applies to which adjectives? For intransitive verbs, the active/passive meaning (confusing/confused) will never apply; you can understand their adjective meanings as continuous/completed (falling/fallen). Unfortunately, for all other verbs there is no clear reason why some adjectives are explained like confusing/confused (active/passive meaning) while others are explained like falling/fallen (continuous/completed meaning). Try both explanations to see which makes more sense in your context.

Missing Endings on Adjectives (Hard to Hear ā€œdā€ Sound/Letter)

One common difficulty with the participial adjective ending in -ed is that it is hard to hear this ending pronounced in spoken conversations, especially for words ending in a vowel. This can lead speakers to leave off the ending of the word in writing, which makes the word look like a verb, not an adjective (e.g. *The confuse coach began practice.).

To avoid this type of mistake, make sure you double-check that any word functioning as an adjective has the correct ending. If one word is describing another word (e.g. advanced placement; relaxed requirement; professor who is retired), it is likely an adjective.

Try this test if you’re not sure when a word is acting as an adjective: Can you substitute the word with another adjective like happy, weird, or old?

  • Example: There will always be people who have doubted themselves while there are others who are motivated and have a deep inspiration.
    • The word doubted is not an adjective because this sentence is not logical: “*There will always be people who have happy themselves…”
    • The word motivated is an adjective because this sentence is logical:  “…there are others who are happy and have a deep inspiration.”

For other helpful adjective tests, see the adjective glossary entry.