Participial Adjectives: Present Participle and Past Participle Pairs

How to use participial adjectives like "boring" and "bored" correctly

This is an entry on my list of Common Errors in English Usage. Visit the main page for direct links to additional entries.

English contains a number of pairs of complementary adjectives that cause a lot of confusion for non-native speakers. In each pair, one of the adjectives describes the objective, external thing that causes a certain reaction. Present participles, or “-ing verbs,” such as boring, are often used this way. The other adjective describes a person’s subjective, internal reaction. Past participles, such as bored, are often used this way.

I am so boring! = I cause other people to feel boredom.

I am so bored!

Unless you intend to insult yourself, avoid using the first expression above.

The bored student fell asleep while listening to the boring lecture.

In the example above, bored describes the student’s subjective reaction; boring describes the external thing that causes this reaction. A person can also be boring, however, if he causes boredom in others:

The boring English tutor put his students to sleep.

Other common examples of such adjective pairs include excited and exciting, interested and interesting, and tired and tiring:

The excited student thoroughly enjoyed the exciting lesson about participial adjectives.

Not all such pairs are participles; the adjectives incredible and incredulous, for example, fall into this category as well. See my Incredible vs. Incredulous page for more information.

Related Resources

Common Errors in English Usage: Errors in diction and idiom commonly made by native speakers of English

List of Common Errors in English Usage (PDF): Printable version of the complete list

Common Grammar Errors: A list of common errors in grammar (topics like subject-verb agreement and parallelism) as distinct from usage

List of Common Errors in English Usage: PDF version

© 2006, 2008, and 2019 C. Brantley Collins, Jr.