By Margaret C. Brophy, M.S.Ed.
Department of English
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Rochester Institute of Technology
When a student writes "I am frustrating with that class," we recognize it as an error, but the error is not one that makes the writing unintelligible. The message comes through, albeit awkwardly. When the error is merely an annoyance, is it worth the time and effort to correct it? This author believes it is.
There is value in teaching a relatively minor concept such as the correct use of the -ed and -ing participles. The value lies in the broader understanding of English sentence grammar that comes as a result of really "getting" the -ed/-ing principles. Knowing about the different roles of verb and participle structures enables students to better understand the workings of English sentences. Perhaps students will experience greater control over the syntax and express ideas more clearly. The students' knowledge of these structures brings them up one more rung on the ladder toward mastery of English.
Description of the Problem
Frequently, we see errors in student writing such as the following:
I am interesting in that.
I am boring with that class.
We may suggest corrections:
I am interested in that.
I am bored with that class.
The student may look puzzled and reply, "How can it be -ed when am is present tense and -ed is for past tense?" A sophisticated student may even say, "My high school teacher taught me that -ing is the 'present participle'. I was writing in the present tense. Why do you want me to mix past and present tense?"
For the teacher of a subject other than English, the question may appear apt, and the answer elusive. Why do we use -ed with a present tense verb? Why is "I am boring" incorrect? Native users of English know that "I am boring" communicates a completely different message from "I am bored." But what is the explanation? First, let's review some basic information to establish a context.