• a killed person. I saw a killed person in the street.
  • a person killed. I saw a person killed in the street.

Is there any difference in meaning between two these phrases, and are they both acceptable and interchangeably used in context?

3 Answers 3


The two usages are not interchangeable, but both are acceptable—provided we supply the singular, uncountable noun street with a determiner!

The difference between the two sentences is a very simple one. In your first sentence, the past participle killed is in the prenominal position (before the noun). This causes it to be interpreted as an adjectival form that modifies the noun person:

I saw a killed person in the street.

This tells us that you saw a person in the street who had been killed.

In your second sentence, the past participle is in the postnominal position (after the noun), and this causes killed to be interpreted as a passive verb form with the noun as its patient:

I saw a person [being] killed in the street.

This tells us that you saw the killing as it was taking place.

In English, past participles frequently serve as adjectives. However, the past participle of kill is seldom used in this way. If we substitute a verb whose participle is more commonly used in this way, the sentences are much more idiomatic:

I saw a frightened person in the street.
I saw a person frightened in the street.

I saw a tattooed person in the street.
I saw a person tattooed in the street.

  • Thank you for this perfect answer. But a person, isn't the subject or object because the word person is receiving the action of killing as an object. "and this causes killed to be interpreted as a verb form with the noun as its subject? : Jul 30, 2017 at 22:49
  • I'm not sure that killed person is even really right here. Kill is an action verb, as it were. Let's take another: I saw a beaten person in the street. Most unusual. Anyway, killed is merely an adjective. I saw a dead person in the street, more like it.
    – Lambie
    Jul 30, 2017 at 23:49
  • @Lambie You're absolutely right, this killed is out of band. I've only seen killed as an adjectival in medical writing (killed vaccine, killed virus) but in this business we play the cards we're dealt. Jul 31, 2017 at 1:45
  • @BavyanYaldo To address your comment and for clarity, I edited the answer. Good catch! Jul 31, 2017 at 2:05
  • @P.E. Dant A "killed" person is a dead person. Where "dead" functions like frightened, alarmed or any other state-of-mind verb. Funny thing, that, huh? Dead as state of mind.
    – Lambie
    Jul 31, 2017 at 16:21

The first one clearly suggests that the person you saw was the one that was killed and makes good sense for your listeners.

The second sentence, on the other hand, does not make sense the way you have written it.

The verb pattern is "to see somebody DOING something". That inquires the sentence to be:

I saw a person killing in the street. ---> In this case, the person, who you saw, was the one doing the killing.

Another verb pattern is "to see somebody DO something"

I saw a person kill in the street. ---> In this case, you've been watching this person killing in the street from the beginning until the end.

You can either put an infinitive without "to" or a gerund, but a past simple form of the verb has no use in this sentence whatsoever.

  • Look at this extracted text from a game of thrones: They set forth at daybreak to see a man beheaded, twenty in all, and Bran . Pay attention to the see a man beheaded. Beheaded here is p.p, so this phrase is similar to the second sentence in my question; I saw a person killed by someone in street. Jul 30, 2017 at 19:17
  • Personally, I think this sentence is either colloquial or wrong. I would phrase it as "to see a man being beheaded". But, hey, I'm not George R.R. Martin, and thank gods I'm not in Game of Thrones!
    – Martin
    Jul 30, 2017 at 19:22
  • Hahahaha. Maybe you are true because a linguistic person told me that a writer can took some liberty in his writing and typography. So he could use his words in the way he wants, and ignore some grammar. We could name it a creative writing. @Martin Jul 30, 2017 at 19:36

Yes, a huge difference. "A killed person" suggests a person that has been killed, whereas "A person killed" means a person that has killed.

Perhaps you meant "A person, killed" which with the comma would suggest the former - "A killed person"

  • You are correct about the first one, but you are wrong about the second. Because a person killed, is kind of passive; a person killed by someone: a person is receiving the process of killing Jul 30, 2017 at 18:07
  • Yes i think second one is incomplete it requires by someone to complete it
    – user55625
    Jul 30, 2017 at 18:41

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