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How to Teach Participial Adjectives to ESL Students

EFL teacher

Have you ever heard one of your students complain about homework being “bored” instead of “boring”? If so, a review of participial adjectives is in order. Sound daunting? Don’t worry, once you’ve worked through the technical rules of this common grammar structure, you’ll feel more confident to teach participial adjectives to ESL students. Here, we introduce the most commonly used participial adjectives and give you some ideas for how to make a boring — yes, I’m using a participial adjective here! — grammar class more interesting and accessible to your students.

If you’re new to teaching, you’ll want to get initial training and qualification with a TEFL certificate. You can explore our online TEFL courses to get started!

What are participles?

Let’s get cracking, then! Participles are words that originate from a verb but are used in different ways.

A verb + -ing is usually referred to as the present participle. A verb + -ed, like wanted, walked, and lived, is referred to as a regular past participle, while forms like cut, broken, and gone are referred to as irregular past participles.

This should give you an overall idea of what we’re talking about when we refer to participial adjectives. If you’re taking the Bridge 120-Hour Master Certificate course, it includes a 40-Hour Grammar Advisor course that’ll train you in more depth on the topic.

How do you identify a participle?

As introduced above, a participle is a verb ending in -ing (present), -ed (regular past), or -en/-d/-t/-n/-ne (irregular past).

So, when you ask your students to find the participle in a sentence, you could pre-teach a chart of possible endings that they can reference. You can also ask your students to give an example of a word for each ending, allowing for more student involvement in the grammar lesson.

What are some examples of a participle?

Some participles that you can teach in groups with your students could be:

  • -ing: singing, walking, eating (Of course, the -ing form has its own exceptions, such as the omitted e in taking, breathing, giving, etc.)
  • -ed/-ied/-d: walked, talked, elected, predicted, worried, lived
  • -en/-n: broken, taken, given, eaten, been
  • -t: lost, built, burnt, learnt (U.K.)
  • -ne: gone, done

However, sooner or later your students also have to learn all of the irregular forms, such as awoke, brought, clung, came, begun, and so on, that cannot quite fit into these groups. The list of irregular participles is quite vast, which can be discouraging for your students at times.

It’s a good idea to correct their errors with irregular forms – and really, all forms — with lots of positive reinforcement. E.g., “Your thinking is perfectly right; it should be like you said, but in this case, it’s irregular so…”

If you need some more tips on ESL teaching methods, such as how to correct your students’ mistakes, check out the Bridge Micro-credential course on Error Correction in the EFL Classroom.

How do you use participles?

1. Participles can be used with the auxiliary verbs “be” and “have” to make progressive and perfect verb forms.

  • It was raining.
  • I have talked to her 10 times!
  • She had gone to bed before I arrived.

2. Participles can be used to make the progressive and perfect verb forms in the passive voice.

  • The home was built in 1906.
  • The food will be eaten by the dog.
  • The house is being cleaned.

3. Participles can be used as adverbs.

  • The dog ran barking out of the house.
  • The woman walked singing along the street.
  • He was going down fighting to the end.

4. Participles can be used as clause-like structures.

  • The woman talking to Tom is my mother. (Changed from “who is talking to Tom,” an adjective clause, to an adjective phrase.)
  • The boy injured in the accident is in critical condition. (Changed from “who was injured in the accident,” an adjective clause, to an adjective phrase.)
  • There are 10 cars parked outside. (Phrases with -ing and -ed often follow there + to be.)

5. Participles can be used as adjectives.

  • Jane’s job is boring.
  • Jane is bored (with her job).
  • He has a broken heart.
  • The house looked abandoned.
  • The falling leaves are so colorful!

How are participles used as adjectives?

So, what is a participial adjective exactly?

It is a participle, as introduced throughout this article up to now, that functions as an adjective, modifying a noun or pronoun.

Even though this sounds complicated, it’s actually quite logical. Since adjectives are words that describe or modify nouns, participles that describe or modify nouns are called participial adjectives.

When you use a present or past participle as an adjective, it’s also called a participial adjective.

What are some common examples of participial adjectives?

Let’s look at some examples for better understanding.

When we talk about feelings, we can do so in two different ways: either by using a verb (e.g., annoy) or by using the -ed or -ing adjective (e.g., annoyed, annoying).

  • The noise annoys me.   I am annoyed by the noise.   The noise is annoying.

We often choose to use the adjective forms instead of the verb forms for the following verbs:

Common Participial Adjectives

*Note: Engaged has a different meaning from engaging.

How do you teach participial adjectives?

Here are some useful tips for teaching participial adjectives to ESL learners:

  • Apart from just going through the above list of commonly used participial adjectives with your students, allow plenty of time for your students to make example sentences for each of them. This increases retention, and your students will already have a sense of success at the beginning of the class!
  • Break down grammar topics into smaller portions, such as by starting with adjectives, continuing with present participles, then past participles, then irregular participles, and finally putting it all together to teach them participial adjectives.
  • Always set your grammar lessons in an accessible context, so your students can feel a connection to what they’re learning and are motivated to participate.
  • Teach grammar with patience, lots of room for trial and error, plenty of opportunities to use the grammar point, and engaging and relevant topics.
  • Use lots of drills in the beginning through pair work, worksheets, or quizzes — you can even create your own materials for the EFL classroom! — but offer plenty of chances later on to use the newly-learned grammar in group conversations and role-play. Your students need to understand that grammar is a tool to express themselves and to produce language.

As you can see, teaching participial adjectives to ESL learners doesn’t have to be intimidating, nor does it have to be boring for your students. By breaking up grammar topics like this one into small lessons and accepting all of the exceptions to the rules as a necessary evil, both you and your students can have a satisfying and successful lesson together!

Take the Specialized Certificate in Teaching English Grammar course to learn the best practices for teaching morphemes, parts of speech, tenses, and many other grammar subjects.

After backpacking Australia on a Working Holiday visa, Bridge graduate Johanna traveled to Japan for a year to teach English. She then moved to New Zealand for another two years before returning to her chosen home country, Japan, where she currently lives. Now, with more than eight years of professional English teaching experience, Johanna enjoys her expat life in Japan teaching teenagers at a private junior and senior high school, where she recently received tenure after only two years. When she’s not teaching, Johanna continues to travel regionally and explore new places.