Sometimes I feel it is difficult to know what is the part of speech of specific word when it is come without context (without more additional information)?

Example one:

The thunder is terrifying.

Is terrifying Adjectival or Verbal?

but when additional information is available, the part of speech will be clear:

  • Verbal: The thunder is terrifying my son, could you close the door, please?
  • Adjectival: The thunder is terrifying and noisy.

Example two:

The door was closed.

  • Verbal (passive voice): The door was closed by him.
  • Adjectival: The door was closed when we got there.

So, When the context isn't available, How can we know what the part of speech is ? let's say some one ask you: What is the part of speech of terrifying in "The thunder is terrifying"? what will your answer?


2 Answers 2


In both of your examples the word are adjectives describing the subject

The clue is the to be verb

The thunder is terrifying.
The door was closed.

similar to

He is the president.

  • thank you, is it adjective in this one "The thunder is terrifying my son, could you close the door, please?" ?
    – Shannak
    Feb 18, 2017 at 20:23
  • That's a completely different sentence, it's verbal as in "The thunder terrifies my son...", the main difference is the additional context which changes the sentence.
    – Peter
    Feb 18, 2017 at 20:33
  • so when can we say "terrifying" is adjective? and when is it varbal? should we have more information to decide? if the information not available , then the default answer should be "adjective". and why is the default answer should be "adjective" not verbal.
    – Shannak
    Feb 18, 2017 at 20:38
  • 1
    It is determined by the sentence structure, you need to know the entire sentence structure. In your original examples, there is only the be verb, that makes it adjectival, in your second sentence you have be verb but also an object "my son". You need to analyze the entire sentence to understand the structure, just as you need to read the entire sentence to understand its meaning.
    – Peter
    Feb 18, 2017 at 20:41

It's called a particial adjective(adjective that has a form of a participle). It's easy to confirm wether it's a participial adjective or not, if it can be modified by "very", which cannot modify verbs, than it's an adjective. We call it a very-test, by the way.

The thunder is very terrifying.

However, some adjectives like "closed" are not gradable and are not modified by "very", so the context will be needed.

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