Choosing the right adjective

picBored v Boring

On Friday night I went to see a film at an open air cinema in London.  We started eating our picnic whilst we waited for the film to start. My friend Rob was telling a funny story when my sister Anna started yawning. Rob stopped mid-sentence and said; “I’m sorry Anna, am I boring?”

Anna was embarrassed and explained that she hadn’t slept the night before because of the thunder storms, so Rob forgave her.

That conversation reminded me of a common problem for English learners, and that is choosing the right adjective between those that end with ‘ing’ and those that end with ‘ed’.

Why would it have been incorrect for Rob to say the following?

“I’m sorry Anna, am I that bored?”

It’s because “bored” describes the feeling of the person (in this case Rob), whereas “boring” describes how you feel about the person or thing (in this case how Anna felt about Rob’s story).

That’s also why I wrote that Anna was embarrassed.  She was embarrassed because that describes her feeling.  If I said Anna was embarrassing, it would describe my feeling about her.

Another way of thinking about it is this:
• the ‘ing’ form expresses the cause of the feeling.
• the ‘ed’ form expresses the result.

Therefore I could say that the film we saw was boring, so I was bored (the film was the cause of my feeling and my feeling was the result).

Of course things (e.g. the film) can only be described with the -ing form because things cannot have feelings.  People, on the other hand, can be described with either -ing or -ed forms because they can produce feelings in other people AND experience feelings themselves.

So I could say; “he is interested in learning English” and also; “he is very interesting” because he knows a lot about science.

I cannot say; “the table is disappointed” (because the table doesn’t have feelings).  But I could say; “the table is disappointing” (because my feeling is that the table doesn’t meet my expectations).

What else?

Last month, during the World Cup, you might have thought that the football was very exciting.

This week I thought that the news about the plane being shot down by a missile was shocking. When I heard it, I felt frightened.

Right now you might think that this post is very interesting, and that you are interested in learning how to speak perfect English!

When choosing the adjective, the bottom line is that ‘ed’ describes the feeling of the person, and ‘ing’ describes how you feel about the person or thing.  Are you bored yet?…

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