How are strings like 'open-minded' regarded?

If you say they're participles, I ask of which verb ('to open-mind' or 'to mind'? With which meaning then? Is there a meaning of 'to mind' like 'to provide a mind', 'to equip with a mind' or 'to have a mind'?). Or is it possible to form participles out of nouns with adjectives, too ('an open mind')?

  • Hello, Ben. This is partly a matter of looking up the word open-minded in a dictionary. I think they all agree on the part of speech involved. // You could, after checking in a couple of dictionaries, say CD and AHD, look up 'participial adjectives' and 'compound adjectives' here on ELU. // Participial adjectives don't always have a corresponding verb. // And compound adjectives formally similar to participial adjs may not be pa's. Related: Is 'spellbind' a defective verb? (see especially herisson's answer). Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 14:22
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    Hello Edwin, thank you for your answer. I was aware of the existence of both participial adjectives (verb participles used as adjectives e.g. a closed door) and compound adjectives (more-than-one-term adjectives, e.g. not-so-easy stuff) but here we seem to have a combination of both species. This is why I have asked. Well, I was not aware of the fact that adjectives are ranked among participial ones even if they only look like participles and have no verb as base. Meanwhile - after your hint - I've had some more research and found a very simple example ('talented' with no verb 'to talent').
    – Ben A.
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 14:46
  • BenA. Alongside talented, others that come immediately to mind are famed, renowned, diseased... And alongside open-minded are all those things like left-handed, po-faced, short-sighted. Though quite how to square that last one with the fact that far-sighted and far-seeing are both fine, whereas short-seeing doesn't seem to work, escapes me. (I expect @Edwin could answer that too, though! :) Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 15:40
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    At the risk of idosyncracy, isn't there a usage, according to which some nouns are treated as passive participles, modified by an (or, rather, another) adjective? Examples would be 'bow-legged', 'two-faced', 'cack-handed', 'warm-hearted', 'copper-bottomed'... In such instances, the word 'minded' is the the property of 'having a mind', then qualified by the property the mind has (in this case 'open') It is an example of the extreme flexibility of English that potentially any noun could be stretched in this way. This is not a formally grammatical answer, but may show what is going on.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 15:46
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    @Tuffy: Indeed. I'm not gonna bother checking to see whether there are any written references to tight-skirted young ladies in Google Books, but it sounds okay to me. On the other hand, ladies in tight skirts do seem somewhat more "accommodating" than ladies in tight pants (tight-panted certainly doesn't seem to work, and tight-pantsed is completely beyond the pale). Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 16:03

1 Answer 1


We must start with a reasonably precise definition of 'participial adjective'.

Identifying a Participial Adjective

The participial adjectives are a major subclass of adjectives. They can be distinguished by their endings, usually either -ed or -ing. Exceptions to this rule of thumb include misunderstood and unknown, which function just like these other adjectives. They are called participial adjectives because they have the same endings as verb participles. [Obviously, adjectives ending in ed or ing that are not what we would class as -ed or -ing words, like red, are not in this subclass.]

Function in a Sentence

These adjectives are really meant to function like any other adjective: basically, they help to describe a noun. They might come from a verb form, or they might merely imitate the structure, but they always function as a descriptive adjective.

[from YourDictionary.com; amended; bolding mine]

Note that there does not need to be a corresponding verb for a candidate to be classable as a participial adjective. OP himself has discovered talented, with no corresponding verb '[to] talent'. And note that 'They might come from a verb form ...' dismisses the possibility of back-formation of verb from adjective, which may well be a false assumption.

But does the class include compound adjectives where there is no corresponding compound verb (though there may be the corresponding simple verb)? OP gives the example open-minded, where the simple verb 'mind' (and the participle 'minded') exists, but not the compound verb 'open-mind'.

The article includes misunderstood with the corresponding compound verb misunderstand, which causes no problems.

But it also includes the example 'unknown', with no corresponding 'unknow'.

Though classification requirements are always a matter of definition, it looks to be most sensible to consider unknown, open-minded, open-mouthed, open-necked, action-packed, airheaded, middle-aged, widespread, windswept, eye-catching, death-defying, mind-boggling and so on as (compound) participial adjectives, even though no directly corresponding verb exists. Even with short-haired and the like, where even the simple verb needs searching for. But now someone will ask "And having put them in a nice niche, where has that got you?"

  • This is a typically rigorous answer. Are you sure that the this captures the specific nature of the question? What I mean is that he is interested in a kind of compound adjective (for want of a better expression) involving something which cannot or at least is not a verb. You are right that there is a verb 'to mind' with a passive participle (minded), which, however has an entirely different meaning. 'To mind' means 'to care', to look after' or 'to object to'. 'open-minded' means something quite different about the quality of someone's mind: that they have an open mind.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 21:20
  • No; I've given a reasonably scoped answer. OP asks about the [sub]class of words like 'open-minded'. Investigating whether particular examples are (a) formed by mimicry or (b) derive from an archaic/obsolete verb, and if (b) whether that verb was simple or itself compound, and whether the sense of that verb is retained in the compound participial adjective, I'll leave for some PhD student/s. Or perhaps you can find an article that some PhD students have already accomplished? Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 13:21
  • Hi! I've never believed that verbs like 'to open-mind' or 'to mind = to provide a mind' existed. It was clear to me that 'open-minded' is derived from the noun. So, you can see my first question as a rhetorical one. The core of my questions was if a word created by putting a noun and -ed together can be called a participle. It obviously can if you call it a participial adjective when using it as an adjective. Now I'm pondering how such a participle could be called. We can hardly call it 'past participle' as nouns have no time component...I know. This participle is probably not defined so far.
    – Ben A.
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 8:36
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    There is at least one other common construction in which a non-verb takes an apparently participial ending. I am talking about the suffix "-en" in "wooden", "earthen", "golden", etc. Those words also function adjectivally, but I would not consider them to be past participles. Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 17:26
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    @MarcInManhattan Yes, this is a clear derivation from a noun [Online Etymological Dictionary] with the adjectivising suffix -en added. Oaken, oaten, wool[l]en .... We sadly seem to have lost beanen ('made of beans'). Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 19:13

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