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.

English is spoken in the UK.

In these sentences, are the highlighted past participles acting as adjectives or passive voice?


For passive voice, you are describing an activity with the object at the start of the sentence.

The salmon has been smoked - an activity: passive mood

When a past participle is used to describe the state of something, its usage is adjectival:

The salmon is smoked - a state: adjective

It's difficult to tell without a context, but your first three sentences probably describe a state, not an activity: for example, the state of the park is "covered with snow". If the context gave some clues about how the snow got there, it could instead be taken as an activity. When you use a past participle to describe a state, its role is adjectival.

The final sentence could be regarded as either describing an activity (people speak English in the UK) or, more likely, a state (English is the language that is spoken in the UK).

  • I mostly agree, but I would say that "English is spoken in the UK" is an actual passive -- in that case there are actually people doing the speaking. – hmakholm left over Monica Mar 30 '17 at 12:33
  • @HenningMakholm: I am not convinced that this sentence refers to people actually speaking. I read it as "English is [the language that is] spoken in the UK". – JavaLatte Mar 30 '17 at 12:56
  • But "the language that is spoken in the UK" is not appreciably distinct from "the language that people speak in the UK". In contrast, for example, there is nobody who "knows Mr. Smith to everyone in this town", so "known to everyone" cannot possibly, in a much stronger sense, be a passive. – hmakholm left over Monica Mar 30 '17 at 13:00
  • #1 could be read as passive mood as well. Someone/something covered the parking lot in snow. Was it a film crew using fake snow while preparing to shoot a movie? A blizzard? Mother nature? – relaxing Mar 30 '17 at 13:41

All your highlighted past participles are acted as passive voice.

These are the tips to distinguish whether past participles are acted as passive voice or adjective:

  1. Describe an action that the subject could not do by itself => Passive voice

    For example:

    • The mouse was trapped.
    • The park was covered with snow.
    • Mr. Smith is known to everyone in this town.
  2. Describe the state of the subject or the native of the subject => Adjective

    For example:

    • She is interested in reading books (The native of the subject).
    • I'm bored (The state of the subject).
    • You are so attracted to power (The native of the subject).
    • I'm very tired (The state of the subject).

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