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What Is a Verbal Adjective?

A verbal adjective, often known as a participle, blends the worlds of verbs and adjectives. It describes a noun while also conveying an action or a state of being. For example, "running water" uses the verbal adjective "running" to paint a vivid picture of water in motion. Intrigued? Discover how these linguistic chameleons can enhance your writing prowess.
Angie Bates
Angie Bates

More commonly called a participle in English, a verbal adjective is a verb that is used to modify a noun. Although a verbal adjective behaves as an adjective in a sentence, it also has some attributes of a verb, such as tense. Past and present forms of these adjectives usually end in "-ed" and -ing" respectively.

Adjectives are used to modify, or provide detail for, nouns. Their spelling and structure do not change depending on the tense of the sentence, and they are usually either found directly before the noun they modify or after a linking or helping verb, such as "to be." For example, in the sentence "the red rose was fragrant" both "red" and "fragrant" are adjectives because they give details about a noun, the rose.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Verbal adjectives are generally placed before the words they modify, and their spelling changes depending on the tense of the sentence. This difference appears because verbal adjectives are verbs which are filling a different role. For example, in the phrases "the flying car" and "the opened door," both "flying" and "opened" are verbal adjectives, based on the verbs "to fly" and "to open." They receive different endings, however, because the first phrase is in present tense and the second is in the past.

As with other adjectives, an object can be paired with a verbal adjective, as in the sentence, "running from the monsters, she screamed." The verbal adjective in this sentence is "running." The word "monsters" is the object because it answers the question from what was she running. Additionally, these adjectives can be substantive, or take the place of the noun they are modifying, as in the sentence "Tend to the wounded." The word "wounded" is the verbal adjective, modifying the assumed noun "people" which is not present in the sentence.

Although a verbal adjective usually ends with an "-ing" in present tense and an "-ed" in past tense, every word with these endings is not necessarily a verbal adjective. Regular past tense verbs also end in "-ed," and though verbs of any tense do not end in "-ing," gerunds do. Gerunds, however, act as nouns rather than as adjectives, such as in "she likes cooking."

Additionally, irregular verbs will not have "-ed" endings in the past tense, and usually their past participles will be different as well. For example, the verb "to write" is irregular. When used as a verb, the past tense is "wrote," but the past participle, or verbal adjective, is "written" and is paired with the verb "has" or "have."

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books