HelloEmotion: smile

The park was covered with snow.

Mr. Smith is known to everyone in this town.

The legislator participates in the delegation and is involved in sweeping reforms.

Are these underlined words considered adjectives or past participles in passive voice?

Many thanks for your help in advance.

Candy Emotion: smile
1 2 3 4
Past participles can be used as adjectives, so there is nothing contradictory about saying that these are both at the same time. The situations presented are static and no agent is involved, so these are not examples of passive voice. As the sentences stand, without further context, no one actually covered the park with snow, and no one actually involved the legislator in sweeping reforms. (The use of "known" is a little trickier - but it can be replaced by "familiar" to show the non-passive nature of the structure.)

If indeed snow had been hauled in on a fine summer's day -- for a special event, let's say -- then your first sentence would be in the passive voice.

The park was covered with snow in preparation for the summer ski exhibition.

But you see that more context is needed to provide a reason to judge the sentence an example of passive voice.

I hope that helps.

Hi CJ,

Thanks for your reply.
(...and sorry for my late 'thank you'....!!)Emotion: embarrassed

I'd like to add a little more context on each example sentence, but acutally they don't have much context at all. I quoted them from a grammar book.
The phrases such as 'be accustomed to, be known to, be covered with, be surprised at, be worried about' (and so on...... there are a lot!) are listed as examples of 'past participles' which don't accompany the preposition 'by' in passive voice.
I was a bit puzzled after having a look at the list. I couldn't understand why all these examples should be categolized as past participles(passive voice)....especially 'be accustomed to' and 'be known to' didn't sound like passive voice to me beause of their meanings......!

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Hi candy,

There are verbs in English that can be used as “adjectives” or “passive voice”. Many of them are understood as passive verbs without the preposition “by”. Depending on the reader’s interpretation, some may considered them adjectives while others are persuaded to believed they are past participles used as passive voice. Consider the following examples: Exhausted- He was exhausted after spending 8 hours in the garden

He was exhausted after spending an entired weekend in the garden.

But he was very satisfied with his own work.

His wife was excited to see the transformation of the garden.

However, his children were saddened to see the tree house go.

He was tired of picking up the tree leaves so he removed the tree.

Everyone is interested in having a swimming pool put in.

His is not very motivated with the pool idea.

Notice that there is no “by” used in these sentences because they were constructed with verbs of feeling and emotion and they are understood by the context. However, when we used action verbs in context like: The Germans were defeated by the Allies in WW2, the act of defeating was carried out by the Allies and the receiver of the act was the Germans. That said, “defeated” can be considered as adjective as well.

I think the question Candy raised here is one of those most of English learners in Japan would have. The problem seems to come from the fact that students in Japan are being taught in school that the past participle is a form of verbs along with the present and past forms and that teachers introduce the past participle for the first time when they begin to teach the perfect tenses and the passive voice. In my opinion, the past participle should not be taught as a form of a verb but should be taught as a special kind of adjective (= the verbal adjective) that can be used in a similar way with other kinds of adjectives to describe the state of the subject or to modify nouns attributively. And students should be taught to take their use in the perfect tense or in the passive voice merely as one of the applications special to the verbal adjective.

Interesting observations, Paco, and good advice!

You seem to have your finger on the pulse of English grammar sources, so maybe you could tell me. In your readings do you find that most authorities believe there is such a thing as an agentless passive? Or is there a preference for talking about past participles as adjectives (with no attempt to call these passives)? I suspect there's no consensus on this, but I may be wrong.

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Hello CJ

I have four English grammar books. Two are written in Japanese and both treat an agentless passive as a kind of passive, although one of them introduces the concept of "stative passive" to explain the usage of agentless passive. English-written grammar books are Quirk's CGEL and Alexander's Longman English Grammar.

Quirk uses a term "pseudo passives" for "agentless passives". He also uses a term "semi passive" for the constructs like "He was interested in linguistics". He defines this construct as "semi-passive" due to the reason as follows. Semi passives are common with true passives in that they have an active partner like "Linguistics interested him", but they are different from true passives in that the past participle in semi passives can be coordinated with usual adjectives and modified with adverbs like "very", "more", "quite", "rather", etc.. Another difference is that the auxiliary "be" can be replaced by verbs like "seem", "feel", etc.. Personally I don't feel Quirk's explanation is well organized.

Alexander shares only three pages for the description of passive voice. There he explains the difference between the adjectival construct and the passive voice with the examples:
I was worried about you all night (adjectival).
I was worried by mosquitoes all night (passive)
But I don't think Alexander also has a clear idea about distinguishing adjectival constructs from passive constructs. He categorizes into passives the sentence "He is said to be honest" despite the fact we cannot say "They say him to be honest".

agentless passive, pseudo passive, semi passive

As I suspected, there are a lot of shades of difference. It's almost as if there is a complex continuum of possibilities between the two poles of plain adjective and agentive passive.

Thanks, Paco.
Emotion: smile
Hello CJ

Yes, you are right. Quirk explains the gradation of passives giving the examples as follows in the order from 'central passive' to 'true adjectival'.
1. The violin was made by my father.
2. The conclusion is hardly justified by the result.
3. Coal has been replaced by oil.
4. This difficulty can be avoided in several ways.
5. We are encouraged to go on with the project.
6. Leonard was interested in linguistics.
7. The building is already demolished.
8. The modern world is getting more highly industrialized.
9. My uncle was (very) tired.
He classes #1 to #4 as 'central passives', #5 & #6 as 'mixed or semi passives', #7 & #8 as 'pseudo passives', and #9 as an adjectival.

His definition of a central passive seems to be based on whether we can construct its active counterpart by choosing an appropriate agent. As to this criterion, he mentions, the sentence #3 is somehow ambiguity because we can two actives for #3 depending on the interpretation of the by-phrase: "Oil has replaced coal" and "(People) have replaced coal by oil". The sentence #4 represents so-called 'agentless passives' for which we cannot determine the subject of its active counterpart.

The sentences #5 & #6 are mixed or semi-passives because the present participle is someway verb-like and someway adjective like. We can construct their active counterparts but the participles can be coordinated with true adjectives and "be" can be replaced by other copulas.

The sentences #7 & #8 are pseudo passives because they only superficially take the form of <be + past participle>. The real active counterpart of #7 is not "They already demolish the building" but "They already have demolished". That is, "is demolished" is a state resultant from the demolition rather than the act of the demolition itself.

How about those explanations? I would like to take all except #1 (and possibly #3) as "adjectival" to avoid messiness.

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