English Learner Article How to teach -ed and -ing adjectives

Summary:Teaching techniques and classroom activities for adjectives that end in ed and ing like bored/ boring and tired/ tiring.

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Mixing up words like “surprised” and “surprising” and “confused” and “confusing” is one of the most famous problems for language learners, featuring not just in textbooks but also in the speech of foreign characters in numerous comedy programmes. Although I think most people could guess that a language learner saying “I am boring” really means “I am bored”, it could certainly cause amusement. In addition, other examples like “My brother is tiring” could actually be misunderstood. Despite being so (in)famous, I have yet to find a textbook that deals with -ed and -ing adjectives really well. Common weaknesses in lessons on these kinds of adjectives include:

  • No connection to what comes before and after in the course
  • Oversimplified and inaccurate explanations of the differences between -ed and -ing adjectives
  • Controlled practice where students have to choose between -ed and -ing but both are actually possible
  • Oral practice activities which are too unrealistic and/or controlled to be likely to lead to better speaking in future real communication
  • Freer speaking activities which students can easily complete without using this language at all

This article will suggest some solutions to all those problems.

Tying lessons on -ed and -ing adjectives in with other language points

Looking closely at the big list of -ed and -ing adjectives at the bottom of the page, you may notice that most of the -ed words are emotion/feelings. There are also quite a lot of opposites (“bored” and “interested”, etc) and words with similar meanings (e.g. “shocked” and “stunned”). Perhaps less obvious is that many of these similar words are actually gradable adjective and extreme adjective pairs (e.g. “interested”/“fascinated”, because fascinated = very or extremely interested). A lesson on -ing and -ed adjectives therefore ties in well with materials on these points in the same, earlier or later lessons:

  • feelings
  • opposites
  • synonyms
  • gradable and extreme adjectives, or ungradable adjectives more generally

Teaching -ed and -ing adjectives also ties in well with situations which promote strong feelings and the times when we communicate about those experiences. For example, online reviews, telephone complaints and emails to friends and family about holidays, restaurants, free time activities, jobs and studies are likely to naturally include at least some of these kinds of adjectives.

 

Explaining -ed and -ing adjectives

Some books claim that we use -ed adjectives when people are the subject of the sentence (“He is amazed” etc) and -ing adjectives with things (“The hotel is amazing”, etc). However, this is not quite true. For example, “He is boring (me)” (= “He is a boring person”) could well be as common as “He is bored (by the film)”. Instead of using this over-generalisation, it is more useful to say that -ing adjectives are feelings and -ed adjectives are properties of a person or thing that make people feel that way, e.g. personality words. To make this simpler and clearer, I tend to start by always using -ed adjectives with the verb “feel” rather than “be”, pairing up “I feel tired” (rather than “I’m tired”) with “The journey is tiring”. This is even easier if we have done feelings adjectives in general (“I feel sad/upset/scared” etc) earlier in the class or course. We can then move onto using -ed adjectives with “be” later on.

If students keep on asking “But why?”, you can point out that the form and meaning of -ing adjectives is similar to verbs in sentences like “This film is frightening me”. If we change this to a Passive sentence with the same meaning, it can become “I am frightened (by the film)”. These -ed and -ing verbs are not quite the same as the adjective meanings and some students actually find this explanation more confusing, but for others it can be a useful memory aid if they get confused, if only in situations where they have enough time to think back to this, such as writing exercises. For situations where they need to think of the right form more quickly, it can be more useful for students to just memorise a key sentence of each kind, perhaps with each sentence linked to a particular picture such as the most memorable image that students come up with in one of the drawing games below.    

 

Classroom practice activities for -ed and -ing adjectives

-ed and -ing simplest responses game

This is possibly the simplest possible game to play in class, hence the name. So simple is it, in fact, that you’ll probably want to quickly move onto one of the other more challenging games below. The teacher reads out words, sentences, gapped sentences, gapped phrases, etc and students rush to show which of the two adjective forms they have heard or think would be suitable. For example, if the teacher says “disappointed”, “I feel disappointed”, “I feel disappointBEEP”, “I felt BLANK” or “a LALALA boy”, the students should race to show that they think it is “ed”. The same thing also works with the teacher drawing or holding up pictures of a boring movie, a frightened girl, etc. If you want to also practise ones which don’t match the system such as “scary” and “impressive”, you can tell them to not do anything if the answer is neither -ed or ing.

Very young students can show which form they think is correct by running back and forth to slap walls on opposite sides of the classroom with “ed” and “ing” written on them. Classes that would be better off seated can play the same game by pointing at or pretending to shoot those two walls, or they can hold up one of their two arms, hold up two cards with “ed” and “ing” written on them, etc.

 

-ed and -ing adjective pelmanism

If you already know the game pelmanism (also known as “pairs” or “the memory game”), you are probably wondering what the (useful) challenge is in finding and matching up two --ed adjective cards or two -ing adjective cards. The answer would be “None!”, so instead in this game the cards have the names of things that could prompt particular feelings like “caving” (for “scared”/“scary”, “fascinated”/“fascinating”, etc) and “fireman” ( for “excited”/“exciting”, etc). As is usual with pelmanism, the cards are spread face down across the table and a student takes two. In this variation, to be able to keep those two cards they must make a single sentence with both nouns and an -ed or -ing adjective that their partner accepts. For instance, if they pick “fireman” and “caving” cards and say “Being a fireman and caving are both frightening because you can die” or “I would feel too frightened to be a fireman or go caving” and their partner thinks the sentence makes sense, they can keep those two cards. If the student can’t think of suitable sentence or their partner rejects the sentence for not making sense, they have to put the cards back (exactly) where they came from and play passes to the next person. To prompt use of both forms of the adjectives and more adjectives in general, I tend to tell them that they can only use each adjective once, though they can use the -ing form of an adjective that has been used in the -ed form before and they can reuse adjectives if people attempted to use them but their sentences were rejected.

 

-ed and -ing adjectives tennis

The teacher or a student reads out an -ed or -ing sentence and the students race to shout out a related sentence as quickly as possible. This can be:

  • A (sensible) sentence with the other form of the adjective, e.g. shouting out “The movie is boring” if the teacher says “I’m bored”
  • Shouting out an opposite word or sentence, e.g. “My homework is interesting” if the teacher says “My homework is boring” or just “Dissatisfied” if they hear “Satisfied”
  • Shouting out the gradable adjective version of an extreme adjective sentence, and vice versa, e.g. shouting out “The boy is enraged” if the teacher says “The boy is irritated” or “This computer game is enraging” in response to “This computer game is irritating”

If you mix actual -ed and -ing pairs up with similar ones where one doesn’t match that pattern like “attracted”/“attractive”, you can also play the tennis game with just single words, with the teacher or another teacher shouting out an adjective and the other person “returning” with the other form, leading to exchanges like:

Student A “Exhausted”

Student B “Exhausting”

Student A “Frightening”

Student B “Frightened”

Student A “Scared”

Student B “Scaring”  

Student A “No, it’s scary. One point to me”

This can be played with the real scoring rules of tennis or volleyball, or you can just make up your own rules for who serves, how many points is needed to win a game, etc. Especially with young learner classes, it can also be played with an actual ball going back and forth.

 

-ed and -ing adjectives projects

Ask students to draw posters to make something such as a theme park or summer camp look as attractive as possible, using a mix of -ed and -ing adjectives. For example, with a ski area they could label slopes “more challenging” and “the most frightening black slope in the world” and put speech bubbles of people saying “The staff are so welcoming” and thought bubbles with “I felt stressed before, but I’ve just realised I’m totally relaxed!” You can also do the opposite of getting them to draw and describe the worst possible of something, for example a terrible hotel, perhaps pretending that they are government inspectors writing a report about why the place should be shut down or lawyers demanding compensation for having stayed there.

 

-ed and -ing adjectives drawing games

Students draw something that matches a sentence or word they are given, e.g. a tired giraffe if they are given that sentence, or a steep hill if they are given “A tiring hill”, “The hill is tiring”, “tiring” or “hill”. This can be organised as a drawing competition where the best and/or quickest correct pictures gets points, or one student can draw until other people guess what the sentence is (like Pictionary). Both games can also be played with people drawing opposite pairs (“The man is stressed. The woman is relaxed” etc) rather than single adjectives, and drawing sentences with both forms in (“The mouse is bored because the television programme is boring” etc).

 

-ed and -ing adjectives bluffing games

Students take cards that have -ed and -ing adjectives and/or suitable subjects of -ed and -ing adjectives (“TV programme” etc) on them. They make a sentence about themselves using the word or words on the card(s) that they took, e.g. “I get bored in maths lessons”, just lying if they can’t think of a true sentence. Perhaps after asking questions like “Why do you feel that way?”, their partner guesses if the sentence is fact or fiction.

Especially if students will have problems making their own sentences out of just key words, you can also do bluffing games with a 10 to 20 gapped sentences like “I feel _______ when I see my grandma” and “My father likes ______ TV programmes”. Students complete them with a mix of reality and imagination (maybe half each) and then read out examples for their partners to guess the truth or not of.  

 

-ed and -ing adjectives personalised guessing games

Students try to make true sentences about each other like “The last time you were really impressed is when you saw the new Star Wars movie” and “You found Venice inspiring”.

There are many ways of organising this. The simplest for students is for them to fill in gapped sentences like “I felt ________ the last time I went to hospital”, “I thought ____________ was really disappointing” and/or “Yesterday was really tiring because ______________________”. I usually play with this with someone reading out one gapped sentence (without the bit they wrote) and their partner guessing the whole sentence, but you can also do it the other way round with the person whose turn it is reading out just the bit that they wrote and their partner guessing which sentence it goes in.

For students who can make straight to speaking without a writing stage, you can just get them to take adjective or subject cards to try to make true sentences about their partner from.

 

ed and -ing adjectives things in common

Students try to find things that they both find interesting, times when they both feel scared, actors they find attractive, etc. They can then do the opposite and try to find things that they find disgusting and their partner doesn’t, etc.

 

ed and -ing adjectives stories activities

Feelings come up in stories a lot, so there are lots of possible activities involving -ed and -ing adjectives and storytelling. Perhaps the formats which bring out the vocabulary most intensively are:

“… is… -ing but I don’t get …ed because…” (“Waiting for my brother is irritating but I don’t get irritated because I fold him up, put him in my satchel and carry him to school” etc)

“… was…ing/I felt… -ed at… so I went to/tried/…” (“I was disgusted by the smell in the zoo so I went to the Natural History museum instead. But seeing dead animals was depressing, so I…” etc)

If you write out a similar story yourself before the class, you can get students to guess the continuations of each line of the story before you show or read how it really finishes. For example, if you stop after “PE is tiring but I don’t get tired because”, you can hopefully get guesses like “I sleep”, “I do it on roller skates” and “I have superpowers” before you tell them that it really finishes with “I have springs on my sports shoes”. They can then write similar stories for themselves. Students can also draw suitable pictures for your and/or their stories. You may also be able to turn the structure into something more like a poem or song.

Storytelling can also be organised as a speaking game. Cut up and give out cards which have negative adjectives (“disappointing” etc) and/or nouns like “park” and “caterpillar”. Students take turns using a card to continue one of the two story structures above.

 

The big list of -ed and -ing adjectives

ed and -ing adjectives in alphabetical order

Ones which make pairs but aren’t -ed or -ing are given in brackets ()

aggravated/aggravating

alarmed/alarming

amazed/amazing

amused/amusing

annoyed/annoying

ashamed/(shameful)

astonished/astonishing

astounded/astounding

attracted/(attractive)

bored/boring

(calm)/calming

captivated/captivating

challenged/challenging

charmed/charming

comforted/comforting

confused/confusing

convinced/convincing

dazzled/dazzling

delighted/(delightful)

depressed/depressing

disabled/disabling

disappointed/disappointing

discouraged/discouraging

disempowered/disempowering

disgusted/disgusting

disheartened/disheartening

displeased/displeasing

dissatisfied/dissatisfying

distracted/distracting

distressed/distressing

disturbed/disturbing

(dizzy)/dizzying

embarrassed/embarrassing

enabled/enabling

encouraged/encouraging

energised/energising

enervated/enervating

enraged/enraging

entertained/entertaining

excited/exciting

exhausted/exhausting

fascinated/fascinating

flattered/flattering

flustered/flustering

frightened/frightening

frustrated/frustrating

fulfilled/fulfilling

(full)/filling

gratified/gratifying

heartened/heartening

impressed/(impressive)

infuriated/infuriating

inspired/inspiring

insulted/insulting

interested/interesting

invigorated invigorating

irritated/irritating

mollified/mollifying

motivated/motivating

moved/moving

mystified/mystifying

empowered/empowering

overpowered/overpowering

overwhelmed/overwhelming

perplexed/perplexing

perturbed/perturbing

petrified/petrifying

pleased/pleasing

refreshed/refreshing

relaxed/relaxing

repulsed/(repulsive)

revolted/revolting

satisfied/satisfying

scared/(scary)

shocked/shocking

sickened/sickening

soothed/soothing

stimulated/stimulating

stressed/(stressful)

stunned/stunning

surprised/surprising

tempted/tempting

terrified/terrifying

threatened/threatening

thrilled/thrilling

tired/tiring

touched/touching

troubled/troubling

unamused/unamusing

unconvinced/unconvincing

underwhelmed/underwhelming

unfulfilled/unfulfilling

unimpressed/(unimpressive)

uninspired/uninspiring

uninterested/uninteresting

unsettled/unsettling

unstimulated/unstimulating

unsurprised/unsurprising

unthreatened/unthreatening

(upset)/upsetting

(welcome)/welcoming

worried/worrying

 

ed and -ing adjectives grouped by meaning

Where possible, given with ones with similar meaning, then extreme versions, then opposites. Ones on their own have no obvious matches.

 

amused/amusing

entertained/entertaining

unamused/unamusing

 

annoyed/annoying

irritated/irritating

frustrated/frustrating

aggravated/aggravating

enervated/enervating

infuriated/infuriating

enraged/enraging

mollified/mollifying

 

challenged/challenging

 

confused/confusing

perplexed/perplexing

mystified/mystifying

 

convinced/convincing

unconvinced/unconvincing

 

dazzled/dazzling

 

depressed/depressing

 

distracted/distracting

 

disgusted/disgusting

repulsed/(repulsive)

revolted/revolting

sickened/sickening

attracted/(attractive)

tempted/tempting

 

embarrassed/embarrassing

ashamed/(shameful)

 

enabled/enabling

empowered/empowering

disempowered/disempowering

disabled/disabling

 

encouraged/encouraging

heartened/heartening

discouraged/discouraging

disheartened/disheartening

 

excited/exciting

thrilled/thrilling

 

flattered/flattering

insulted/insulting

 

frightened/frightening

scared/(scary)

petrified/petrifying

terrified/terrifying

 

gratified/gratifying

 

impressed/(impressive)

overpowered/overpowering

unimpressed/(unimpressive)

underwhelmed/underwhelming

 

interested/interesting

stimulated/stimulating

fascinated/fascinating

captivated/captivating

uninterested/uninteresting

bored/boring

unstimulated/unstimulating

 

motivated/motivating

inspired/inspiring

uninspired/uninspiring

 

perturbed/perturbing

unsettled/unsettling

disturbed/disturbing

(upset)/upsetting

distressed/distressing

comforted/comforting

 

pleased/pleasing

delighted/(delightful)

charmed/charming

displeased/displeasing

 

satisfied/satisfying

fulfilled/fulfilling

(full)/filling

dissatisfied/dissatisfying

disappointed/disappointing

unfulfilled/unfulfilling

 

stressed/stressful

flustered/flustering

worried/worrying

troubled/troubling

(calm)/calming

soothed/soothing

relaxed/relaxing

 

surprised/surprising

alarmed/alarming

shocked/shocking

amazed/amazing

astonished/astonishing

astounded/astounding

stunned/stunning

unsurprised/unsurprising

 

threatened/threatening

unthreatened/unthreatening

 

tired/tiring

exhausted/exhausting

invigorated invigorating

energised/energising

refreshed/refreshing

 

touched/touching

moved/moving

overwhelmed/overwhelming

(dizzy)/dizzying

 

(welcome)/welcoming

 

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Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com