Passive voice vs Adjective

This is a discussion thread · 4 replies
Hi,
I have difficulty distinguishing between situations where a participle is used but ambiguous as to whether it is acting as an adjective or part of a passive. Do you have some guideline I can go by?
John finished his work.
The work is finished by John.
I think those two are good illustrations of active and passive cnostructions, but things get confused when and where the 'by' seems to be almost impossible to be employed (used??) like in this case:
The work is finished. Done and over with..
Contributing Member1,969
Thread is locked
Approved answer (verified by )
BelieverI have difficulty distinguishing between situations where a participle is used but ambiguous as to whether it is acting as an adjective or part of a passive. Do you have some guideline I can go by? ... ... things get confused when and where the 'by' seems to be almost impossible ... ( as in ) this case:The work is finished.
One wonders whether anything about your ability to use English in either its spoken or written form hinges on the ability to make such distinctions. Recognize that some cases are inherently ambiguous.

Nevertheless there are some guidelines if you wish to 'get into the weeds' of the various types of passive.

According to Palmer (The English Verb), besides the plain vanilla 'passive' with an agent introduced by by (The man was killed by his wife.), which we may call the 'true passive', and the passive without an agent, or 'agentless passive' (The man was killed.), also a 'true passive', there are three other categories of passive -- the pseudo-passive, the semi-passive, and the statal passive. None of these three is a 'true passive'.

To understand the three types of 'false passive' (if you'd like to call them that!), it is first necessary to understand the tests for being an adjective, as enumerated by Palmer. These tests are as follows. An adjective generally can be used before a noun, after a linking verb, with the adverbs very, rather, more, or most, (sometimes with already), and coordinated with another adjective with and. Not all of these are possible for every adjective, but they are generally possible for most adjectives. The following examples show, with these tests, how finished is an adjective.
a finished product (use before a noun)
The work is finished. (use after a linking verb)
*very finished (not really possible, since finished is not gradable)
already finished (use with already)
It is finished and ready. (with and and another adjective)
______

Now for the categories.

The pseudo-passive has no corresponding active form and the past participle is completely adjectival.
The room seems very crowded. (Note the linking verb and very.)
The problem is complicated. (You could say very complicated or rather complicated. You could say difficult and complicated. You could say a complicated problem. These tests show that complicated is an adjective here.)

The semi-passive may appear to have a corresponding active form but is adjectival. Optionally, it may introduce the apparent agent with a preposition other than by, e.g., with or in. It may relate to emotional conditions. It may have negative forms with un-.
Jake was shocked by her behavior.
Roberta was worried about the exam.
Everyone was satisfied with the results.
We were quite uninterested in the presentation.

The statal passive is adjectival. The simple tense is very similar in meaning to the corresponding perfect tense, which (at least approximately) represents the corresponding agentless passive. Some examples can occur with already.
The glass is broken. (The glass has been broken.)
They were married for many years. ( They had been married for many years. Note married and happy, married couple, already married, unmarried -- signs of being an adjective.)
The exams are finished. (See the adjective tests for finished above.)
None of the three types discussed above are 'true passives'. It is often difficult to place a given usage exactly in one of the categories, so in spite of these guidelines, there are still ambiguous cases. Even some of the examples given above might be placed in a different category. Only context can resolve them.

CJ
Veteran Member51,982
Moderator: A super-user who takes care of the forums. You have the ability to message a moderator privately should you wish. These users have a range of elevated privileges including the deletion, editing and movement of posts when needed.Proficient Speaker: Users in this role are known to maintain an excellent grasp of the English language. You can only be promoted to this role by the Englishforums team.
Thread is locked
Thank you, CJ.

Now, it might take some time to go over this, but aside from it, I think this is one of your "signature" explanations (or responses) that shouts brilliance.
Thread is locked
Most of the work was Palmer's! Emotion: wink
Moderator: A super-user who takes care of the forums. You have the ability to message a moderator privately should you wish. These users have a range of elevated privileges including the deletion, editing and movement of posts when needed.Proficient Speaker: Users in this role are known to maintain an excellent grasp of the English language. You can only be promoted to this role by the Englishforums team.
Thread is locked
Anonymous:
There is no reason for modesty here,trust me,i was holding Palmer's book and struggling to figure this out just a day ago,but after your explanation it simply clarified itself to me.So considering the explaining part,it is mostly your work.Thank you!:)
Thread is locked
Live chat
Registered users can join here