Wily ‘-ed’ words
Exploring words formed by tagging on the ‘-ed’ suffix.
An exploration of words formed by tagging on the ‘-ed’ suffix.
RECENTLY an acquaintance asked whether one should say “You are welcome at my school” or “you are welcomed at my school”. It was an interesting question – interesting enough for me to explore the different ways in which the “-ed” suffix is used. Basically, the said suffix is used in three ways: (1) as an inflectional suffix for verbs; (2) as a suffix to form adjectives from nouns; and (3) as a suffix to form adjectives from verbs, specifically the past participles of verbs. Let me explain.
‘-ed’ as inflectional suffix
There are many variations in the form of the past tense (preterite) of verbs. A large class of verbs, called weak verbs, form the past tense, as well as the past participle, by tagging on the “-ed” suffix, e.g. laugh/laughed, travel/travelled. Variants of the suffix are “-d” (as in love/ loved, hear/heard) and “-t” (as in smell/ smelt~smelled, spill/spilt~spilled, dream/dreamt, mean/meant, keep/kept).
Weak verbs, a term found in the older grammar books, arise from the way that such verbs are conjugated – by simply adding the suffix “-ed” or its variants to the base verb. One should note a few features associated with the term: (1) verbs ending in a vowelconsonant combination double the consonant-letter before adding the “-ed” suffix ( ban/banned, control/controlled, cross/crossed – but not always ( focus/focused, sever/severed, vomit/vomited); (2) verbs ending in “-y” change the “y” to “i” before adding the “-ed” suffix ( carry/carried, deny/denied, vary/varied); (3) verbs may undergo an internal change before adding the “-d” or “-t” suffix ( sell/sold, dream/dreamt, leave/left, sleep/slept, bring/ brought); (4) certain verbs with a consonantplus-d ending form the past tense by changing the “d” to “t” ( build/built, spend/spent); and (5) certain verbs with a vowel-plus-d or vowel-plus-t termination retain their form for the past tense ( hit/hit, read/read but pronounced /reed/red/, shut/shut). Even with the above features, there is one characteristic that distinguishes weak verbs from strong verbs: weak verbs have the same form for the past tense and the past participle ( love/ loved/loved, lose/lost/lost, buy/bought/bought, quit/quitted/quitted or quit/quit/quit) whereas strong verbs may have the past tense in the “-ed” or “-d” or “-t” form BUT the past participle has a different form ( swell/swelled/swollen), show/showed/shown).
[ Strong verbs form their past tense without the addition of an added syllable (the strong form of conjugation); they are nearly all words of one syllable and belong to the early English stock; and the strong form of conjugation may be said to be dead because no new verbs are conjugated in this way (L. Tipping, 1935. Matriculation English Grammar of Modern English Usage. London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd. p.214.)]
‘-ed’ as suffix to form adjective from noun
The suffix “-ed” is also added to the base form of nouns to form adjectives denoting “with, possessing, wearing, affected by”, as in feathered, meaning “having feathers”; moneyed, meaning “having money, rich”; and talented, meaning “possessing talent”. Phrases made up of adjective and noun form the corresponding hyphenated adjectives, e.g. bad-tempered, meaning “having a bad temper”, and multi-talented, meaning “possessing many talents”.
The following are some examples of such “-ed” adjectives and their usage: (1) teenaged, said of a someone between 13 and 19 years old (1) a left-handed person, being a person who normally uses the left hand to write and do most things; (2) in stockinged feet, meaning “wearing socks or stockings but without shoes”; (3) a four-storeyed building ( Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 2010, p.1,471), referring to a building with four storeys – but, incongruently, it is multi-storey car park ( Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 2004, p.939; OALD, 2010, p.971); (4) uniformed staff, meaning “staff wearing a uniform”, not “staff with a uniform physique or disposition”; (5) a wasp-waisted figure, referring to a lady’s figure with a noticeably narrow waistline.
Here are a few more examples to reinforce the “rule”: low-ceilinged room, detailed report, polka-dotted swimsuit, double-edged sword, open-ended discussion, orange-flavoured drink, bare-footed man, big-hearted person, wellintentioned gesture, landed property, life-sized statues, skilled workers, the speckled band, stepped pyramid, untenanted building, fourwheeled carriage.
One may note that “-ed” nouns-becomingadjectives are easily applied to plants ( singlecelled plants, red-coloured stem, broadleaved plants, scented flowers, umbrella-shaped fungus), and to animals ( yellow-banded scad, red-bellied piranha, duck-billed platypus, yellow-crested cockatoo, white-handed gibbon, horned toad, four-legged animal, red-nosed reindeer, winged insect).
The above lists but a small proportion of the very large number of “-ed” nouns that function as adjectives. On the other hand, there are some nouns in their basic form that function as adjectives, specifically as modifiers. The following are examples of modifier nouns: blood relative (not blooded relative), high-calibre personnel (not high-calibred personnel), left-hand drive (not left-handed drive), love story (not loved story), mother tongue (not mothered tongue), murder victim (not murdered victim).
For curiosity’s sake, note that a hyphen may make a difference in meaning. For example, one-armed man means “a man with one arm”, whereas one armed man means “a man who is armed with a weapon or weapons”.
‘-ed’ as suffix to form past participial adjective
We now come to the word “welcome” as posed at the beginning of this article. Let me extend the use of this word in the following pairs of sentences: (1) “You are always welcomed in my house” vs “You are always welcome in my house”; and (2) “There is a welcomed mat at the front door of the house” vs “There is a welcome mat at the front door of the house”.
It is at once obvious that for Example (1), the first version of the sentence is not tenable – one cannot have been welcomed when one has not come to the house. Likewise, for Example (2), the first version is weird: it implies a mat that has been welcomed – and by whom? It is clear that there is a difference between “welcome” as a regular adjective and “welcomed” as a past participial adjective (a past participle functioning as an adjective). There are many situations where it is necessary to differentiate between regular adjectives and past participial adjectives of the “-ed” form. The following pairs of examples illustrate: (1) “advance copy of the forthcoming book” vs “advanced state of decay”; (2) “an articulate person” vs “an articulated bus” (3) “a complete package” vs “a completed project”; (4) “express wish” or “express bus” vs “expressed juice of oranges” (5) “a separate room” vs “the separated yolk of an egg”.
I often hear references to “matured adult”, which I shall use to elaborate on the above point. Why should it be “mature adult” and not “matured adult” as commonly encountered in conversation? “Mature” is a regular adjective, but “matured” is a past participial adjective. Thus it is all right to say mature adult, meaning “an adult who has reached a stage of mental or emotional development characteristic of an adult”. On the other hand, matured adult implies that he, like a wine or a cheese, has been kept under special storage conditions to age and attain a desired quality. I may labour the point by considering the opposite of the “mature/matured” pair. One can understand what an immature adult is, but one cannot make sense of an immatured adult!
The above outline accounts for pairs of adjectives and past participles which look almost alike and are used attributively (i.e. preceding the word that is thus modified). Uncertainty may also arise when such pairs are considered for use in the predicate. For example, when does one use subject to instead of subjected to, and vice versa? A felon may be subjected to (“caused or forced to undergo”) caning, and a cancer patient may be subjected to (“treated with”) chemotherapy. On the other hand, a person is subject to (“under the control or authority of”) the laws of his country, any decision by the committee is subject to (“dependent or conditional upon”) a society’s constitution, and flights into and out of the airport are subject to (“likely to be affected by”) delay because of a workers’ strike.
We may note that British English and American English differ slightly in the terminology of certain dairy products. For example, BrE recognises skimmed milk and processed cheese for the AmE skim milk and process cheese. How do we reconcile the difference? Apparently BrE uses skimmed and processed as participial adjectives, whereas AmE uses the verbs skim and process as adjectives, specifically as modifier verbs.
Incidentally, it is roast (not roasted) beef, roast pork, and roast meat in both BrE and AmE. In such usage, the word roast is the short form of the past participle of the verb roast (G.O. Curme, 1947. English Grammar. Barnes & Noble Books. pp.65, 69).