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I am a native English speaker, yet I cannot explain to a non-native speaker why I say:

I am interested in history.

as well as

History is interesting to me.

Why is it "is interesting" when history is the subject, but not when I am?

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Ask Wren n Martin! – n0nChun Mar 18 '11 at 12:16
@n0nChun, is this question OT for this SE site? – phooze Mar 18 '11 at 12:36
I think the confusion is because you think "interesting" is a verb, while actually it is an adjective. – timur Mar 18 '11 at 15:20
But timur, there's an exact parallel between the adjectives and the verbs: I'm being killed by this history course. This history course is killing me. – Jason Orendorff Mar 18 '11 at 19:41
@Jason: Yes, the parallel you mentioned seems to be causing the confusion. – timur Mar 20 '11 at 22:17
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Start with the verb form:

History shocks me.

There are two parties to this kind of shocking event: a shock-er, the one doing the shocking (in this case, history); and a shock-ee, the one being shocked (in this case, me). In grammar, the first is called the agent and the second the patient.

English would be very confusing if we had no way to tell which was which! Fortunately we do. When shock is used as a verb, the main hint is the word order: John shocked Kaitlin vs. Kaitlin shocked John. The subject is the agent. The direct object is the patient.

To turn a verb into an adjective, we use different suffixes that help make this distinction. The suffix -ing makes an adjective (called a participle) that describes the agent: shockshocking, tends to shock people. The suffix -ed makes an adjective (called the past participle) that describes the patient: shockshocked, startled or upset.

(Many words have irregular past participles: breakbroken, not breaked.)

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Thanks for this. The number one upvoted answer was also good - but I was asking for a grammatical - which you gave me ;) Cheers – phooze Mar 20 '11 at 2:38

To expand on the other answers, there is nothing special about interesting vs interested.

  • I am interested in X. — X is interesting to me.
  • I am excited about X. — X is exciting to me.
  • I am worried about X. — X is worrying to me.
  • I am horrified by X. — X is horrifying to me.
  • I am surprised by X. — X is surprising to me.
  • I am puzzled by X. — X is puzzling to me.
  • I am amazed by X. — X is amazing to me.

And so on, and so forth. And note how saying "X is interested in me" would be perfectly grammatical. It just wouldn't mean the same thing as "I am interested in X". But I don't see why that should be surprising. At all.

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@Reg: How i wish p->q implied q->p – n0nChun Mar 18 '11 at 13:25
@n0nChun: You'd better mind your p's and q's. – Robusto Mar 18 '11 at 13:39
@Robusto: how do you make those upside-down b's and d's? – RegDwigнt Mar 18 '11 at 13:42
@Reg: How do you make those upside down laterally inverted d's and b's? – n0nChun Mar 18 '11 at 13:45

People are interested; topics are interesting

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"Linguistics is interested in words." – MrHen Mar 18 '11 at 20:41
@MrHen in this case "Linguistics" refers to the research community or discipline, rather than to the topic. – Mikhail Kozhevnikov Aug 25 '12 at 12:24

They are both adjectives, but:

Interesting refers to the subject. Interested refers to the direct object.

Therefore using the wrong one would mean that 'I' am interesting, not History.

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In both example sentences, the adjective refers to the subject. – Jason Orendorff Mar 18 '11 at 19:44

If you wanted to make yourself the object, you could also say:

History interests me.

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