Why is it grammatically correct to use these -ing adjectives:

  • annoying habit

  • exciting news

and NOT these -ed adjectives:

  • annoyed habit

  • excited news

  • 1
    Think it through - how often have you seen the news ever get excited, or a habit get annoyed? Feb 15, 2015 at 16:26
  • @Tetsujin I know that habits annoyed me, and news excited me. So presumably that's excited news and annoyed habits? I.e. it's not that simple, imo ;-) Feb 15, 2015 at 17:09
  • 2
    nope, that's you excited &/or annoyed. The news & the habits never worried about it at all. Feb 15, 2015 at 17:11
  • I know what it is old bean, (I'm a native speaker!). My point is that in many languages these ING and ED adjectives are just 1 adjective. So the for example, the words boring and bored are the same word in Spanish. It's difficult for some learners, therefore, to learn the difference ... :) They can't really just 'think it through' - it's too confusing Feb 15, 2015 at 17:17

1 Answer 1


Agents and patients

In the sentence:

  • Bob punched me.

Bob is the person doing the action. In grammar, we say that Bob is the AGENT of the punching action. Me, the person receiving the punches, I'm the PATIENT. I am the recipient of the punching action. Now look at this sentence:

  • I was punched by Bob.

The grammar of this sentence is different, but Bob is still the agent, and I am still the patient of this sentence. Bob is doing the action. The action is being done to me.


Now, some adjectives explain how nouns do things, sometimes to other people or things. Here are some examples:

  • The DJ played annoying music all night.
  • The elephant told us an interesting story.
  • Rain supplies life-giving water to the plants in the forest.

Notice that in these examples the music has the effect of annoying people. The story has the property of interesting people. The water has the property of giving life to other things. These -ING adjectives describe potential actions:

  • annoying, interesting, giving life

The nouns that these adjectives describe, are the potential AGENTS of the actions. In the phrase

  • annoying music

.. the word music describes the agent of the annoying action. ING-adjectives usually describe the AGENTS of the potential action.

However, adjectives ending in -ED are different! This is because ED-adjectives describe the PATIENTS of actions.

  • The bored students went to sleep.
  • The excited monkeys started howling.
  • Happy customers are easier to talk to than annoyed customers

In the sentences above, the students didn't bore anybody. Something or somebody bored them. They were the recipients of a boring people action. Similarly, something excited the monkeys. The monkeys didn't excite anybody. In the last sentence, something annoyed the customers. They did not annoy somebody else.

The Original Posters Question

  • annoying habit

  • exciting news

  • *annoyed habit (wrong)

  • *excited news (wrong)

ING adjectives describe the AGENTS of actions. But ED describe the PATIENTS of actions. Annoyed habit is wrong, because nothing annoyed the habit! Habits don't have feelings, so it is very difficult to annoy habits! In the same way, "news" doesn't have feelings. We can't excite the news! Of course the news can excite people and habits can annoy people. For this reason, exciting news and annoying habits are perfectly correct.

This is frightenING:

enter image description here

This is frightenED

enter image description here

Hope this is helpful!

  • 2
    Excellent answer! And I love the pic for frightened!
    – M.A.R.
    Feb 15, 2015 at 17:19

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