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4.4: Active and Passive Adjectives

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    Passive and Active Adjectives

    Both the past participles and the present participles of verbs can be, and often are, used as adjectives in English.  They are, however, quite different in meaning and usage.  The present participle says that the adjective causes a reaction.  The past participle, on the other hand, says that the adjective receives the reaction.  This use of the present participle and the past participle as adjectives has a similar idea as the difference between the active voice and the passive voice in English.  In the active voice, the subject does the action of the verb; in the passive voice, the subject receives the action of the verb.  Note the two sentences below:

    The man eats the food.  The man is doing the action (eating).

    The food is eaten by the man.  The food is receiving the action (eaten).

    Using the same sentences with the verb “to eat” used in its adjective forms:

    The eating man loves to eat Italian food.

    The eaten food will be digested by the man.


    Students are very often confused by this.  It is important to remember that if an adjective is causing the noun to do something, then the ING form is used.  If, on the other hand, the noun receives the “action” of the adjective, then the ED (or irregular past participle form) is used.

    Look at the following examples below, and get a sense of the explanations above.

    John is reading a book.  It is a very interesting book about wild animals.

    It is an interesting book.  The book is causing John to keep reading and paying attention.

    John is an interested reader.  John is receiving the interest from the book.

    Ahmed is watching a boring movie.  There is a lot of talking and not much action.

    It is a boring movie because there is no action in it and the actors are boring actors.  Ahmed keeps falling asleep while watching the movie.  Ahmed is very bored with the movie.  He might stop watching it and go to bed.


    Exercise 13:  Make sentences which contain either the present participle (ING form of the verb) or the past participle (ED or irregular form of the verb), using whichever form as an adjective to modify a noun.


    My son closed the door and went to bed.  Describe the door.
    The door was closed.  The closed door kept out the light and noise.

    The explanation confused the students.  Describe the students.  Describe the explanation.
    The confused students couldn’t understand the explanation.
    The confusing explanation confused the students.

    The animals in the zoo entertained to young girls.  Describe the animals.  Describe the girls.
    The entertaining animals entertained the girls.
    The entertained girls liked to watch the animals in the zoo.

    1.  The man with the gun frightened to people in the park.  Describe the man.  Describe the people in the park.


    2.  The smartest student in the class gave a very surprising answer to the teacher’s question.  Describe the answer.


    3.  The boys were excited by the news.  Describe the boys.  Describe the news.


    4.  The examination results disappointed the students.  Describe the students.  Describe the results of the exam.


    5.  The company compensated the employees for doing a good job.  Describe the employees.


    6. The dirty mess disgusted the mother when she returned from vacation.  Describe the mother.  Describe the mess.

    4.4: Active and Passive Adjectives is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Don Bissonnette.

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