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Boryana Ruzhekova-Rogozherova


Abstract: Current article studies English deverbal adjectives’ essence stemming from their tight connection with progressive, perfect and passive categories as well as with present and past participles. Due to frequently occurring learners’ errors it also sets the purpose of suggesting ideas as to deverbal adjectives’ teaching and contrastive teaching on the basis of revealed forms’ characteristics.


1. Introduction

Deverbal adjectives arouse vivid linguistic interest due to numerous characteristics related to their complex essence revealing connections with other categories. However, studying these forms is also attractive in applied linguistics and FLT fields as a result of observed errors typical not only to high, but also to higher school students, as to use and functions of studied adjectives. Learners often confuse the so-called traditionally "-ing" and "-ed (-en)" adjectives qualifying a walk as exhausted* and a person having lost their keys as worrying*, for example. Commonly practiced explanation according to which - ing-adjectives describe situations and things and -ed-adjectives, the way we feel, turns out to be quite limited and not entirely valid - a person can not only be annoyed and irritated in a particular situation, but also annoying and irritating, as a result of their conduct. Thus, we consider the key to more complete and adequate learners’ understanding and use of examined forms is elucidation of their characteristic features stemming from deverbal adjectives’ interconnection with related categories. A very essential objective of current article will be consequently to reveal relations leading to transitions between forms and formations and conditioning this way studied categories’ values. Another purpose of crucial importance will be to summarize both types of deverbal adjectives’ basic features so that they may be clearly understood by learners expected to discriminate in the future between meanings and use unambiguously. Thirdly, comparison with French equivalent categories will be carried out as we consider it always useful to contrastively teach forms, where and when possible1.

Most important categories bound-up with investigated adjectives are: progressive and perfect aspect, present and past participles, as well as the passive, in English, and both, present and past participles, le parfait (perfect) and la voix passive (the passive) in French.

The paper will first dwell on -ing- deverbal adjectives and related categories, then, on -ed-deverbal adjectives and bound-up forms.


2. Features of adjectives

Examining above mentioned relationships requires a concise presentation (as we are not treating adjectives in general) of adjectives’ features as it will facilitate delimitation between categories. We must mention that characteristics do not necessarily appear all at the same time.

According to Huddleston (1984: 299) typical or "central" adjectives possess the following properties:

  • They can be used predicatively or as a predicative complement, "He was careless".

  • They can function attributively, "a careless mistake".

  • They can function postpositively as in "people careless in their attitude to money".

  • They can be graded and accept modifiers, such as, rather, very, too, etc.

In Greenbaum’s view (ibid. 1991: 54) relevant characteristics of adjectives are differently ordered:

  • They can function with a modifier.

  • Predicative link may be performed by other verbs apart from to be.

  • Combination between adjectives is possible, as in: "angry and worried".

In Downing and Locke (1992: 456) adjectives can function as determiners ("mainly selective"), classifiers ("taxonomic") and epithets ("qualitative and often gradable").


3. Progressive aspect, present participle and deverbal -ing- adjective

To explore already stated tight connection between these categories’ features we shall focus first on basic aspectual characteristics of progressive periphrasis and bound up with it present participle.

There is no doubt to us the progressive is an aspectual form being characterized not with deicticity (basic tense marker)2, but being involved predominantly with perfectivity / imperfectivity distinction and ways of activity development. These features stem from progressive periphrasis’ structure which consists of the present participle, predicatively linked to subject by means of to be, the most existential by its meaning verb, components leading to resulting contemporary overall structure value. Present participle’s form, showing motion and activity in progress, combined with copulative verb to be, possesses locative meaning equivalent to be in the process of doing something. This idea is substantiated by Cohen (1989: 126) who estimates that contemporary progressive was preceded by "I am in learning" structure, discovered in Celtic languages and equivalent to French "je suis en train de manger". Similarly, Comrie (1976: 99) reckons that an "... expression of progressive meaning in English ... would be a locative expression containing the noun process, e.g. he is in the process of getting up." Locative connotation, we believe, quite naturally promotes progressiveness as a result of tight connection between space and time, and aspectual properties representing a kind of inner, interior temporal division3. We consider the very fact of "being placed" "inside" a specific activity refers not to its completion, but definitely, to its incompletion. Moreover, locative value leads to so-called by Cohen 1989 "concomitance" or present connection, preconditioning progressive / perfect symmetry. Thus, original locative meaning, still preserving some of its hues, is a crucial prerequisite to examined periphrasis’ progressiveness.

The progressive discloses developing process, continuousness, unboundedness, and therefore, imperfectivity. It is a "happening IN PROGRESS"; it reveals "TEMPORARINESS" and incompleteness (Quirk et al. (1985: 197, 198), it is "the combination of progressive meaning and nonstative meaning" (Comrie (1976: 35)), it has "a more or less dynamic character" (Huddleston (1984: 153)) and indicates "a dynamic action in the process of happening"4 (Downing and Locke (1992: 368). All its various values, such as, state, event, habitual, framing effect and transposed (types of future, attitudinal past) progressives proceed from enumerated features.

Having set forth progressive’s underlying characteristics we shall proceed with present participle’s meaning evidently bound up with examined periphrasis’ value. Even though, in Comrie’s view, the present participle, independently used, in non-finite constructions "does not necessarily have progressive meaning", but "typically indicates only simultaneity ... with the situation of the main verb" (Comrie (1976: 39)), we still consider the main feature of studied form is progressiveness. There is significant aspectual difference between, for example, "He walked and talked on his mobile." and "He walked, talking on his mobile." - talked, expressing perfectivity or imperfectivity, according to context, while talking, always revealing intense ongoing activity, apart from simultaneity.

Disclosing progressive aspect, present participle and related deverbal adjectives connection

Pointed out progressiveness can be traced in -ing-forms’ variety and, finally, established in deverbal -ing-adjectives.

We will ask the following questions: why should there exist similarity and likelihood between adjectives and -ing-words, is the common suffix -ing the only precondition? No, though a relevant prerequisite, it would not be so essential if relations of transition from a word class to another one didn’t exist. However, there does exist a group of words showing features typical to various categories, such as the participle, the name of which "is etymologically related to "participate" and the idea behind it is that participles "share" the properties of verbs and adjectives", in Huddleston’s view (Huddleston 1984: 318).

Adjectives are related to adverbs and, consequently, to verbs. For instance, fast in "a fast car" and "drive fast" has two grammar functions, of an adjective and an adverb (examples from Quirk et al. (1985: 405); this we consider quite logical as adverbs can be treated like adjectives qualifying not nouns, but verbs. Adjectives expressing movement, in its physical and abstract sense, possess the ability to indirectly qualify verbs, due to the fact that if a car is fast, it means it moves fast. Similarly, an interesting story is a story that interests listeners or creates interest in them and a person’s behaviour can be worrying if he/she behaves in a worrying way or if he/she is worrying the others by some type of behaviour or if he/she behaves strangely, always worrying the others. Relationships between the categories of deverbal -ing-adjectives, progressive aspect and present participle are quite evident. They all reveal continuousness and exhibit the idea of a developing process. Features they share often create difficulties while trying to discriminate between forms, like in "John is insulting"5, where the -ing-form in our view should be carefully analyzed in context before determining its appurtenance - adjectival or participial.

We feel appropriate to cite a few illustrative examples revealing transitions and close connection between studied forms from Huddleston (1984: 318):

(19) [He was] telling [the truth]

(22) [Anyone] owning [more than $200,000 will have to pay wealth tax]

(24) [He pointed towards the] setting [sun]

(27) [He was a] charming [fellow]

It is clear utterances (19) and (22) exhibit -ing-form’s verbal meaning (progressive and participial), (27), adjectival one, charming, complying with above presented adjectives’ features, whereas example (24) points out at a borderline use. In Huddleston’s view(ibid: 319, 320) setting is closer to a verb than to an adjective -it cannot be graded or used predicatively, the form denotes a "temporary process" in contrast with charming. We do not completely support this view as setting, being attributively used, reveals some, though weakened, adjectival properties, so it should be treated like an instance of non-central, very active indeed adjective. We should also pay attention to the fact that charming, on the other hand, refers to someone who behaves in a charming way, and is not therefore entirely deprived of activity. These comments, taken into consideration, we believe expounded examples really convincingly illustrate examined -ing-forms relationships, and, more specifically, basic feature of deverbal -ing -its progressiveness and activity charge.

How should deverbal -ing-adjectives be accordingly taught?

As stated above, theoretically revealed connections and transitions have serious FLT implications. To avoid confusion of both types of deverbal adjectives, we consider, illustrative pre-teaching examples are really crucially important. Active or activity disclosing -ing-adjectives could be introduced by appropriate pictures or short videos showing confusing, irritating, embarrassing, worrying, etc. -ing- situations and relevant explanation should be provided. For example, we may say "The man in the picture is looking for his key, but, unfortunately, he can’t find it as it may have been lost. Which adjective do you think most adequately describes the situation? The situation is certainly worrying as this person is worrying about entering his home. He is performing the activity of worrying about something, so the situation is active. -Ing- adjectives are used to qualify active and developing situations." Deductions stemming out of explanation can be also stated in a written form and revised while teaching studied category through relevant texts and activities, such as gap-filling and multiple choice ones.


4. Perfect aspect, passive voice and deverbal -ed (-en) adjectives

Most often -ed (-en) adjectives are taught in contrast with -ing-deverbal ones, or vice-versa.It must be therefore shown that both forms are just as similar as different - both they are deverbal ones and refer to activity. However, -ed, contrary to -ing-adjectives, lay stress on activity’s result, not on its development. This underlying feature will be supported, as above, by transitions revealing examples, pointing out tight connection between perfect, passive categories and stemming from them deverbal adjectives. Stated relationships will be duly substantiated by means of emphasizing on fundamental characteristics of already mentioned forms.

Let us comment on following transition utterances quoted selectively from Huddleston (1984: 320, 321):

(30) [He was] given [some money by his grandmother]

(33) [The officer] considered [responsible for the accident refused to resign]

(35) [He came across a] broken [vase]

(36) [The vase was already] broken

(37) [They were searching for the recently] escaped [prisoner]

(39) [He’s a] worried [man]

Quite obviously, - en and - ed - forms in examples (30) and (33) should be considered verbal ones, as given in (30) and considered in (33), being instances of passive, cannot be modified by very or other premodifiers, neither attributively or independently predicatively used6. On the contrary, broken in (35) and (36), escaped in (37) and worried in (39) are adjectives as broken is attributively and, then, predicatively used; escaped neither can be premodified, but is clearly predicative and worried completely matches all adjective requirements - capacity of grading, attributive and predicative use. Why should we detect -ed (-en) deverbal characteristics by comparing forms with passive and perfect structures? Transitions are quite evident and attest one and the same form possessing various, though related meanings.Past participle considered in utterance (33), closer to an adjective than given in (30), presupposes "he was considered responsible by the court"; quality of the vase of being broken (35), (36) derives from the fact that the vase was broken by somebody; the prisoner has recently escaped and that is why he/she can bear the qualification of escaped (37) and the man was worried (39) by/as a result of some worrying experience.

Deverbal -ed- adjectives and passive relationships are successfully revealed by Huddleston (1984: 322) by means of following contrasted examples, one of which coinciding with above quoted (36) utterance: (i) "The vase was broken by Tim" and (ii) "The vase was already broken". We subscribe to quoted author’s view according to which (i) is an "actional" passive and (ii) a "statal" passive. Quite evidently, we reckon, as mentioned above, there must have been somebody who broke it. Notwithstanding close nature of both passives, Huddleston (1984: 323) estimates statal passive "attributes a certain property to the vase"; functioning as event result, broken, in (ii), complies with adjective criteria and it "is better analysed as an adjective". Such transformations as well as above presented ones unambiguously reveal tight connections between passive, perfect and deverbal - ed (-en) forms due to their common features.

Confirming most essential common feature stems from summing up studied categories’ values; it is expression of activity result. Resultativity, along with correlative deicticity (Ruzhekova-Rogozherova 2009) is the underlying perfect meaning, uniting all the others, such as possessive resultativity, acquired experience, "Not yet" perfect, present nearness, superlative perfectness, omnitemporality, etc. Perfect essence, consists in the constant result attribution to the ever fleeing now. It is not only semantic, but also a formal type of result attribution due to activity’s result (conveyed by past participle) acquisition by means of auxiliary have.

Resultativity is also typical of passive voice as this category’s scheme can be easily reduced to the following diagram we propose: [grammatically active patient (subject)] + [to be] + [past participle]7 + [by] + [grammatically passive agent (object)]. Passive functioning mechanism is consequently related to attribution by means of existential to be of an activity result to a passive agent, the form typically expressing result being the past participle.

There is another worth citing instance of passive / -ed- adjective fluctuations, due again to categories’ common meaning; according to Quirk (1985: 415) "there appears to be a divided usage, with increasing acceptance of the cooccurrence of very with a by-agent phrase containing a personal agent: ?The man was very offended by the policeman." Such utterances testify, in our view, to the really tight connection of examined categories, allowing the existence of similar to above example "mixed" passive / adjectival usage.

How should deverbal -ed (-en) adjectives be accordingly taught? As stated above, this type of category should, in our view, be treated and taught in contrast with already examined deverbal -ing-adjectives. Illustrative pre-teaching examples are here equally important to "bridge the gap" between theoretical explanation, founded on expounded characteristics, and its practical implementation. Deverbal -ed - adjectives features, deriving from passive and perfect connections, should be presented concisely and understandably to learners, again on the basis of pictures and short video materials use. However, this time visual aids should be doubled, pointing out not only at annoying, irritating, worrying, etc. situations, but also at people annoyed, irritated and worried as a result of being involved in them. We may say "He is / looks worried as having lost his key is really worrying. Worrying lays stress on an actively developing situation whereas worried, on its result; therefore, to sum up, deverbal-ed adjectives, in contrast to -ing deverbal ones, can be considered passive and inactive." Here again deductions can be stated in a written form and "recycled", if needed, while teaching studied form through appropriate texts and activities, such as gap-filling and multiple choice ones, for example.


5. Comparison with equivalent French categories, prerequisite to contrastive teaching

As it has already been mentioned, contrastive teaching8 acts as motivation enhancement tool, leading to much better understanding of categories when taught in comparison with their equivalents in other learnt by students languages. Carrying out of this approach is preconditioned by revealing contrasted categories’ basic features as well as their functioning mechanism. French -ant present participle and related deverbal-ant adjectives, expressing on-going activity similarly to English ones, will be examined first. Secondly, we will proceed by presenting connections between French past participles and deverbal adjectives, possessing like in English, passive and perfect essence pointing out at an activity result.

French -ant present participle and related deverbal -ant adjectives

In Guillaume’s view (ibid. (1970: 15-27)) present -ant participle (together with en + -ant participle), infinitive and past participle belong to the so called "mode nominal", present -ant participle expressing activity in progress and simultaneity to main action, infinitive, posteriority, and, past participle, finished, expired process, something like a "dead" image of an activity. Let us "broaden" and specify mentioned features. Progress and imperfectivity (Amourette (2006: 149)), being underlying features of present -ant participle, studied form most currently conveys approximate simultaneity, but according to context requirements, basic verbs’ inner aspectuality, causality and for pragmatic reasons, it may also point at anteriority or posteriority, though still exhibiting its feature of continuously developing process. Due to mentioned continuousness (equivalent to English progressiveness of be + verb + -ing periphrasis) the structure en + -ant participle (en functioning as locative preposition and matching English in), reveals not only simultaneity, but also expresses an "attached" process (Le Goffic 1994 in Amourette 2006: 149), kind of independent one. This dual image of en + -ant participle structure stems, in our view, from strong locative connotation as a result of en preposition use, referring to be in the process of doing something. However, this meaning would not be relevant, if essential present participle progressive feature did not exist.

Following lines will be devoted to proving similarities between English and French deverbal -ing and -ant adjectives. French deverbal -ant adjectives, like in English, point out at an on-going process as "des fruits mûrissants; cheveux grisonnants; une vapeur suffocante" (examples from Thomas (1971: 306, 307)) mean des fruits qui murissent (ripening fruit); des cheveux qui sont en train de devenir gris (greying hair) et une vapeur qui fait suffoquer (suffocating steam). Quite often deverbal -ant adjective can be replaced by an -ant present participle, eg. paroles convaincantes, equivalent to paroles convainquant les autres. Similarly to above quoted transformations in English, French examples testify to tight relationship bounding between present participle and deverbal-ant adjectives due to activity development value typical to both forms. Taking into account studied categories’ features, De Carvalho (2003: 115) suggests these forms pertain to one and the same category he names "nom adjective déverbal". We do not subscribe to this opinion; however, it is true there exist examples, such as: "Ma mère ...mourante de renvois ..." (De Carvalho 2003: 116, in Wilmet 1998) revealing, in our view, merging of more adjectival (mourante) into more verbal and typical to present participle meaning (mourant + de), due to closeness of examined forms.

As already stated, discussion will proceed by examining French past participle connections with related deverbal adjectives as well as English-French corresponding equivalences.

French past participle and related adjectives

In contrast with French present -ant participle, past participle cannot be named an -é participle, this suffix being typical to 1st group verbs only. However, all verb groups’ past participles exhibit the same underlying feature of finished activity (ref. Guillaume 1970 above), shaped as process result. In Guillaume’s terms (Guillaume 1970: 18) past participle "completes the verb"9 and as a result of entire lack of verbal tension, the process having expired, quoted author (ibid.) considers examined category much closer to an adjective than to a verb. Current antinomy is not, in our view, striking at all, as, similarly to other forms, also belonging to French "mode nominal" (present participle and infinitive), past participle reveals duality. In case it is accompanied by a verb (avoir and être), studied form can contribute either to the formation of a perfect periphrasis or to this one of a passive structure; individually used10, French past participle testifies to quite intensive connotations, all of which stemming from its basic one, completeness, such as anteriority, result, state and quality11.

Though studied category in French is not traditionally treated as a kind of deverbal adjective in its individual use or under required circumstances (see above definition of an adjective)12, we strongly believe it is one. We shall quote a few lines from a grammar site affirming that "past participle used without auxiliary is equivalent to an adjective"; cited statement is substantiated by agreement in gender and number, like in "Nous n'étudierons que les lettres reçues avant le 30 avril". "La chemise rangée dans le tiroir gauche contient les factures." "Je, soussignée Gilberte Dupin, atteste que ...."13 Studying similar and other types of uses (predicative ones, for example, le mur est fendu) reveals deverbal past participle adjectives’ compliance with attributive, predicative, postpositive and graded use of form. This fact provides evidence (similarly to English) in support of French deverbal past participle adjectives’ membership of adjectives’ class, though not central and typical ones.

French deverbal past participle adjectives are, similarly to their already studied English counterparts, tightly related to perfect and passive categories. This fact follows quite logically from these forms’ common characteristics, resultativity (past participles), resultativity acquisition (perfect periphrasis) and resultativity attribution (passive structures)14. Transformations, like above expounded English ones, are quite convincing; for example, "une feuille jaunie", "des bijoux cachés", "une page vite lue" (examples quoted from Thomas (1971 : 299)) refer to the following : une feuille qui est devenue jaune ou a été jaunie en automne; des bijoux sont cahés par quelqu’un; la page a été vite lue par les enfants, etc. English multilevel equivalences (as to adjectives and assimilated structures) are also pretty persuasive when showing both languages’ likelihood not only as to deverbal -ing and -ant adjectives essence, but also to this one of deverbal -ed (-en) and past participles adjectives: A leaf has become yellowed or has been yellowed in autumn; jewellery has been hidden by someone; the page has been quickly read by the kids. On the other hand, a yellowed leaf, hidden secrets, a quickly read lesson, as well as other possible adjectival combinations, further support above revealed correspondences in English and French.


6. Conclusion or on English deverbal adjectives’ contrastive teaching

Current paper has set the objective to provide evidence from English and French concerning close connections between deverbal adjectives’ values (of -ing and -ant; -ed (-en) and past participle adjectives) and connotations of related present participles, progressive aspect, past participles, perfect and passive structures. As a result of carried out comparison of studied forms in both languages underlying two-fold conclusion can be made:

  • English and French deverbal -ing and -ant adjectives express a quality of an actively developing process, they show progressiveness and continuousness.

  • English and French deverbal -ed (-en) and past participle adjectives reveal a quality of a passive, finished and resultative process; in some respect they can be considered closer to central adjectives’ class than above mentioned activity adjectives due to higher degree of stability and permanence.

Contrastive teaching should be accordingly performed. Suggested in discussion presentation and meaningful contextual consolidation of English forms can be accompanied (if learners are studying both languages as a native and foreign one combination or as FL1 and FL2) by parallel exemplifying utterances, texts, multiple choice or gapped activities, this time in French. These identical activities should be based on translated from English into French or/and vice-versa examples and passages, where possible, to better illustrate high degree of examined categories’ equivalence concerning form and meaning. Contrastively performed teaching, we believe, will not only reinforce students’ understanding of forms, but it will also improve their practical use. Thus, it will lead to serious reduction in the number of frequently occurring errors mentioned above, stemming from not clearly discriminating between worrying and worried, interesting and interested, embarrassing and embarrassed.




1. Author’s research has been considerably related so far with studying French and English preterit and perfect as well as developing English categories’ contrastive teaching methodology. [back]

2. Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech (1985), Downing, Locke (1992), Cohen (1989), Brinton (1988) and other linguists relate deicticity to temporality; Lyons (1968: 315) estimates there are two basic aspects in English - perfect and progressive. [back]

3. Cf. Comrie (1976: 103) mentioning instances of transposition from space to time. [back]

4. Italics are ours. [back]

5. This example belongs to Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech (1985: 415). Quoted author considers participle interpretation "implausible because the verb is normally transitive" and here the complement is missing. [back]

6. See again above stated features of adjectives. [back]

7. Huddleston (1984: 321) distinguishes between passive past participles and perfect past participles, depending on the auxiliary requiring the -en form, be and have. [back]

8. Essence of contrastive teaching is formulated by James (1980: 154) in "Contrastive teaching" involves presenting to the learner at the same time all the terms in a linguistic system of L2 which, as a system, contrasts with the corresponding L1 system." In practice CT encompasses a restricted number of categories depending on learners’ needs and teaching opportunities; we reckon L1 may refer to native tongue as well as to FL1. [back]

9. It could be also translated as "finishes the verb" meaning that it stands for the final bound of an activity development. Translations from French are ours. [back]

10. See Imbs (1960: 162) as to "construction participe absolue", proposition participe, past participle combinations with "voici" and "voilà". [back]

11. Completeness, anteriority and result features are underlying characteristics of French perfect periphrasis; they are prerequisites to its numerous (temporal and aspectual) values’ existence (Ruzhekova-Rogozherova 2010). [back]

12. However, Manchev, Tchaouchev, Vassiléva (1986: 9) state that French past participle is verb’s adjectival form. [back]

13. http://grammaire.reverso.net/4_1_08_accord_du_participe_passe_sans_auxiliaire.shtml; underlining belongs to the site; bold characters are ours. [back]

14. See above presented and referring to English categories perfect and passive structures schemes; they roughly, in their gist formation and meaning, correspond to French counterparts. [back]




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