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ESL Grammar Issues

Adjectives Ending in -ed or -ing

Words ending in -ing or -ed are used in the following ways: 

  • As part of a complete active verb phrase with auxiliaries:

       They are crying because of the news.

       The police stopped them. 

  • As part of a complete passive verb phrase (-ed):

       They were stopped by the police.

       The project was stopped by the CEO. 

  • To add information into a sentence:

       Crying and shaking, the woman opened the door.

       Stopped by the police, the driver took out his license. 

  • As adjectives:

       The crying child kept everyone awake for many hours.

       The stopped project left several workers unemployed.


Using the adjective forms correctly depends on the writer’s knowledge of the following:             

  • Transitive and intransitive verbs
    • A transitive verb will take an object:

                     Example: The boy swallowed a fish. 

  • An intransitive verb will not take an object:

                     Example: The fish vanished.

  • Active or passive nature of the noun or noun phrase being described
    • A tiring job — active
          The job is actively causing “tiredness.”
    • A tired student — passive
          The student feels a certain way—without causing any new action.


  • The ending -ing conveys an active meaning; the noun it modifies does something.
  • The ending -ed conveys a passive meaning; the noun it modifies is acted upon.          

In general, the -ed form often describes how someone feels:

         The frightened campers tried to call for help.

         All his friends had left for the summer, so Ryan felt very bored.

The -ing form points to others or causes of the feeling:

         Godzilla was quite frightening to many children at the theater.

         The boring class made several students fall asleep.  

Compare the following examples:

          1.  Erik has a very tiring job. (The job causes “tiredness.”)

               He is always tired when he gets home from work. (He feels tired.)


          2.  It was surprising that Kelly passed the exam. (The news caused surprise.)

               I was truly surprised when I heard the news.  (I felt surprised.)


          3.  The story of their marriage was really fascinating. (The story causes

               I was fascinated by the story of their marriage. (I felt fascinated.)


          4.  What can be more exciting than a roller coaster ride? (The ride causes

               Gina was excited about going to the amusement park. (Gina felt excited.)


          5.  The headlines in the newspaper were embarrassing. (They caused

               Mary was (very) embarrassed when she saw the pictures. (She felt


The following is a list of other adjectives ending in -ing or -ed that frequently cause confusion:

     amusing                amused                  frightening              frightened

     amazing                amazed                  horrifying               horrified

     annoying               annoyed                 interesting              interested

     astonishing            astonished              overwhelming         overwhelmed

     confusing               confused                 pleasing                 pleased

     depressing             depressed               satisfying               satisfied

     disappointing          disappointed            shocking                shocked

     disgusting               disgusted                surprising               surprised

     exciting                  excited                    terrifying                terrified

     exhausting              exhausted               worrying                worried