Confusing Words Language Tips

Adjectives vs Past Tense Verbs

Some past adjectives are spelled the same as past tense verbs. How can you tell them apart? Why does it matter?

In English, some adjectives are spelled and pronounced exactly the same as past tense verbs (actions in the past). This is also true in Pennsylvania Dutch.

Some English examples:

  • Made can describe an action in the past, or the ingredients of something.
    • I made a cake. (past tense verb)
    • What is this table made from? (adjective)
  • Blessed can describe an action in the past, or your current condition.
    • God blessed them. (past tense verb)
    • We are really blessed. (adjective)
  • Scheduled can talk about an action in the past, or the condition of an event.
    • I scheduled the meeting last week. (past tense verb)
    • Our meeting is scheduled for next week. (adjective)

Why Does It Matter?

Knowing the difference between an adjective and a past tense verb helps make it clear whether someone is talking about the past, present, or future.

This is because both adjectives and past tense verbs need other verbs to go along with them in a sentence. These other verbs are different based on whether it is an adjective or a past tense verb, so you must know which ones to use.

  • With past tense verbs, these are called helper verbs: havva, voahra, and occasionally sei.
  • With adjectives, these verbs are a form of sei or vadda.

First of all; what are adjectives and what are past tense verbs?

What are Adjectives and Past Tense Verbs


  1. Adjectives describe a noun.
  2. Adjectives also describe someone or something’s condition or situation — what they are or could become.

For example, a person might be young (yung), hungry (hungahrich), tired (meet), or angry (bays). Something might be new (nei), old (ald), rusty (roshtich), or fast (shteik).

Past Tense Verbs

  1. Verbs are actions.
  2. So past tense verbs (past participles, PP) are actions done in the past.

Examples of past tense verbs are: ran (kshprunga), wrote (kshrivva), threw (kshmissa), thought (gedenkt), said (ksawt).

Many adjectives are placed right next to the nouns they describe. For example, fat cat, fast dog, big trees. But adjectives do not have to appear right next to the noun they describe.

When an Adjective and a Past Tense Verb Look the Same

It’s very easy to spot most adjectives. But some adjectives look and sound exactly the same as past tense verbs. Let’s look at just 2 examples where it might be hard to tell an adjective from a past tense verb.


As a Past Tense Verb

The dog destroyed the shoe. | Da hund hott da shoo distroit.

  • Destroyed is a past tense verb because it’s an action the dog has already done. So it needs the helper verb hott.
As an Adjective

The town will be destroyed by the storm. | Di shtatt zayld distroit vadda bei da shtoahm.

  • Destroyed is an adjective because it talks about the future condition of the town—what it will be. Here, it needs the verb vadda since it is an adjective.


As a Past Tense Verb

He found the book. | Eah hott‘s buch kfunna.

  • Found is a past tense verb because it is a something that happened in the past.
  • Clue: Notice the helper verb hott.
As an Adjective

It’s information that is found in the library. | ‘Sis information es kfunna is in di library.

  • Found is an adjective since it describes the condition of the information.
  • Clue: Note the is that follows it.

How to Tell a Verb From an Adjective

The easiest way to tell the difference is to ask yourself some questions.

Past Tense Verbs
  • Is it an action?
  • Did it happen in the past?

…then it’s a past tense verb (PP)

… then make sure it has an helper verb like sei or havva.

  • Is it describing a condition?
  • Is it something a person, place, or thing is or can become?
  • Is it happening currently or in the future?

… then it’s an adjective.

… and it needs a form of sei or vadda.

Also, when reading, look at clue words in the sentence.

Past tense verbs will have helper verbs — forms of havva are most common, but a few can also be sei.

Adjectives, on the other hand, will often have forms of sei or vadda.

To make it easier to spot, where possible, each word in the Words List is marked as either a past tense verb (PP) or as an adjective (adj).