In English we say things like:

  • a cal­i­brated de­vice
  • a dis­trib­uted prod­uct
  • a founded com­pany
  • a de­stroyed house

Those ‑ed words there all sig­nify that some verb (here re­spec­tively cal­i­brate, dis­tribute, found, or de­stroy) has been “done onto” the noun that fol­lows it. What is the term for this gram­mat­i­cal de­vice? Or, what is a sin­gle term for some­thing hav­ing been done unto X as a char­ac­ter­is­tic of that X?

As­sum­ing that we’re talk­ing only about words that de­rive from verbs and used with nouns here like my ex­am­ples all do, can that gram­mat­i­cal term you’ve cho­sen also be ap­plied to any sorts of words that do not end in ‑ed, and are there any sorts of words that do end in ‑ed which this gram­mat­i­cal term would not ap­ply equally to?

  • @user22542, "to run" or "to jump" is also an "action", but it is not something that is "done onto a NOUN".
    – user56834
    Mar 24, 2019 at 11:40
  • 6
    I’m not entirely sure what you’re asking here. What ‘device’ are you referring to, exactly? The words you highlight are all adjectives, more specifically past participles of verbs. Is that what you’re looking for (because if so, I’d say that was off-topic here as being easily findable in general references)? If not, please edit your question to make it clearer what exactly it is you’re after. Mar 24, 2019 at 11:41
  • Alas, when a verb form, eg, functions as an adjective there are a dozen different terms used to describe it, most more confusing than elucidating.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 24, 2019 at 12:11
  • Reminder to everyone: answer in answers, not in comments. Comments are for asking for clarification or suggesting improvements to the question.
    – V2Blast
    Mar 25, 2019 at 4:23

5 Answers 5


They are called the Past Participle. They can either be formed by adding the suffix ed

or be an irregular such as: eat-> eaten -> fight -> fought (not to be confused with The Past Simple which is simply the verb of past simple tenses clauses.

They can be many things in English.

just to name a few:

  • an adjective
  • the perfect module verbs
  • passive voice
  • What’s a “perfect module verb”?
    – tchrist
    Mar 24, 2019 at 15:19
  • Though '-ed forms' are traditionally termed 'Past Participles' they have nothing to do with Grammar Tenses. That's why I would call them 'Passive Participles'.
    – user307254
    Mar 24, 2019 at 16:13
  • @user307254 Also, past participles do not have anything to do with passive voice, necessarily, as in I have seen it.. In addition the term "passive participle" is not really common. Mar 24, 2019 at 17:57
  • @RMac Did you misinterpret my comment? Mar 24, 2019 at 21:47
  • @rexkogitans Yes, I did. It was the first word "also" and my toddler distracting me that did it. :) Apologies, I will delete my comment. But I do agree with you that "perfect participle" is not a good term due to its rarity and also inaccuracy. "Perfect" is a word used to describe other things in grammar, and it doesn't make sense to use it here.
    – R Mac
    Mar 24, 2019 at 22:02

The -ed in all of your examples is a past-participle suffix. A past participle is not a derived form: rather, it is an inflected form of a verb (assuming you accept the distinction between derivation and inflection as grammatical processes in English). Most past participles end in -ed, but some end in -⁠(e)n instead (like beaten) and some don't end in either -ed or -(e)n (like stood or hurt). The past participle can have a passive meaning, so it can also be called a "passive participle". In the context of English, "past participle" and "passive participle" refer to the same verb form.

But not all words ending in -ed are verb forms. Words belonging to other parts of speech can be derived from past participles. I think the most common type of derivation is past participle → adjective. Since verbs and adjectives are distinct parts of speech, it's best not to refer to such adjectives as "participles": instead, they can be called departicipial adjectives (a synonymous term is "participial adjectives"), which lets us reserve the term participle for the inflected form of the verb. That said, it's not always possible to figure out whether a word is a participle or a departicipial adjective.

Here are some common texts for finding out whether a word is an adjective or a verb:

  • Can it be preceded by very? If so, it's an adjective. This test doesn't give positive results for me for any of your phrases. (But note that this test only works one way: it can't tell you that a word isn't an adjective. There are some adjectives that can't be preceded by very.)

  • Can it be preceded by carefully? If so, it's a verb. For me, this test indicates that the -ed words in all of your examples could be verbs.

  • Can you add the prefix un- (with the sense of "not", not with a sense of reversal)? If so, it's probably an adjective. For me, this test indicates that calibrated at least can be an adjective (since we certainly can say "an uncalibrated device"). The situation is less clear for distributed, destroyed and founded. There are dictionary entries for undistributed and undestroyed, but "an undistributed product" and "an undestroyed house" both sound a bit weird to me. Unfounded clearly exists as the negation of a different sense of the word founded, but *"an unfounded com­pany" doesn't seem acceptable to me.

There are other possible tests, but I can't describe all of them. Some sources suggest that word order might be relevant, but I believe this is a mistaken view, so I haven't included this as a test.

I think I've made it clear from what I've said above that there are many words ending in -ed that are not past participles/passive participles. (Most obviously, many past-tense verb forms end in -ed, but they are definitely not participles.)

  • Right: ideas can be unfounded, but probably not companies.
    – tchrist
    Mar 24, 2019 at 22:45
  • This is a very good answer. At the risk of making things harder than they need be, I cannot help but wonder whether it also applies to such things as hard-boiled eggs with hard-set egg yolks, hard-bound books, hand-drawn illustrations, horse-drawn carriages, hard-handed despots, hard-bitten veterans, hard-nosed detectives, hard-hearted lovers, hard-fought battles, hard-won victories, and ill-gotten gains.
    – tchrist
    Mar 24, 2019 at 22:57
  • I though the word "participle" meant "verb form used as an adjective"; in my understanding, the "-ing" form of a verb can be referred to as a participle or a gerund, depending on whether it's used as a verb or a noun.
    – No Name
    Mar 25, 2019 at 5:42
  • @NoName: Terminology in this area is a bit confusing. A verb in participle form can be said to be "used as an adjective", in that it can appear in many of the same contexts as an adjective (for example, after a form of "to be"). But many linguists would say that a verb does not become an adjective just by being used this way.
    – herisson
    Mar 25, 2019 at 5:51
  • 1
    @NoName: Likewise, there is a distinction between -ing forms that are verbs "used as nouns", e.g. in contexts like "Carefully building relationships is an important element of success" ("building" here would traditionally be called a gerund) and -ing forms that actually are nouns, such as "building" in "The careful building of relationships is an important element of success" (this type of noun can be called a "gerundial noun"; see my question here: Is “programming” not a noun?).
    – herisson
    Mar 25, 2019 at 5:51

In English, a verb that is used as an adjective to describe a noun is called a participle. See UhtredRagnarsson's answer.

A participle is a word formed from a verb, usually by adding -d, -ed, or -ing.

There are two kinds of participle in English, as follows:

The present participle


The past participle

Participles are used [...] as adjectives.

[see article for other uses]

There is, however, a different term used to describe verbs when the action of the verb is performed on/to/at/etc. something. That term is transitive verb.

transitive verb is one that is used with an object: a noun, phrase, or pronoun that refers to the person or thing that is affected by the action of the verb. In the following sentences, admire, maintain, face, and love are transitive verbs:

I admire your courage.

We need to maintain product quality.

I couldn’t face him today.

She loves animals.

  • It's worth noting that transitive verbs are often made into past participles, like in the examples given in the question. Those are still past participles. There is no word to differentiate transitive participles from intransitive participles or from transitive verbs used where the object of the verb is not relevant to the meaning the participle is used to convey (and therefore is omitted from the use of the participle).
    – R Mac
    Mar 24, 2019 at 19:20

I don't think the tense of the verb is the point of your question. I suppose a simple answer is they are "actions" as verbs, but thank you for the additional input in the comments. More specifically, they are "objective actions", or you might possibly consider "operative actions" as well (because they are exerting force or influence on something).




This is really simple. It does not need a whole note for explanation.

The "ed" is grammatically referred as the past tense marker ...... the past participle

However, don't be confused when the past tense marker is added to a verb to perform the function of an Adjective.

For instance,

  1. A distributed products
  2. A designed artifact
  3. The faded car
  • 1
    Simple past tense and past participle serve very different purposes in a sentence. Simple past tense is used to show the verb happened in the past, while past participle is the verb form that acts as an adjective (being something that happened to the modified noun in the past). Also, the phrase "past tense marker" is not used to reference the "-ed" suffix because irregular verbs (e.g., "break" / "broke" / "broken") do not match that pattern.
    – R Mac
    Mar 26, 2019 at 1:23
  • All right, perfectly perfect. However, I meant this past tense marker "-ed" is attached to regular verbs. Hence, the past participles perform the functions of an Adjective.
    – user341285
    Mar 26, 2019 at 7:19

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