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So my Japanese friend asked me why we can say

Is he gone? Is he finished?

But we can't say

Is he changed? Is he arrived? Is he fallen? Is he shrunk? Is he departed? Is he died? Is he melted?

I'm wondering what the grammar here is. changed, fallen, departed can be used as adjectives so shouldn't it be okay to use it in that kind of sentence? But I feel a entence like "Is he fallen?" sounds unnatural.

How do I go about explaining this in an easy-to-understand way to my Japanese friend?

I appreciate any help! Thank you.

  • @Varun Nair But "gone" in "Is he gone?" is in past tense too. Wouldn't that mean it has to be "Was he gone" with that logic? (not criticizing your comment, I'm just trying to understand the right way to explain this grammar) – Anna Oct 20 '17 at 8:09
  • there is no "grammar rule" here. the first two can be used as a stand-alone adjectives while the rest can't be. "is he died" is exceptionally bad, because the common adjective for non-living person is "dead" - "is he dead?". – David Haim Oct 22 '17 at 13:19
  • @rjpond Yes it's a very similar question but I wanted to get more opinions about it which is why I made another post about it since I'm having a lot of trouble explaining it. I apologize if this feels like spam. – Anna Oct 22 '17 at 13:50
  • I've edited my answer so as better to respond to your revised question. – rjpond Oct 22 '17 at 19:01
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Both transitive and intransitive verbs form the perfect with "have".

Additionally, the past participles of transitive verbs (those which take a direct object) have the following characteristics:

  • They can be used in passives with "be": I am shocked.
  • They can be used to modify nouns: a bleached jumper.

Many of these forms become so common that the dictionaries reclassify the past participles as adjectives.

However, the past participles of intransitive verbs are rarely used in the passive and rarely used as modifiers.

"Gone" is unusual in this respect because even though "go" is intransitive, "gone" is used as and recognised as an adjective (M-W, Oxford): "Is he gone?" - although (except in slang) "gone" is rarely attributive (so we say the money was gone but not the gone money).

"Arrived" is not recognised in most dictionaries as an adjective, and although it has some currency as a modifier, it is nearly always accompanied by an adverb (the recently arrived parcels).

"I have gone" is a use of the perfect. "I have arrived" is also a use of the perfect.

"I am gone" is a use of the adjective "gone". "Arrived" doesn't have an equivalent usage.

(Note: until the 19th century the perfect was sometimes constructed with "be", so "I am arrived" used to be another way of saying "I have arrived".)

Addendum.

Is he changed? Is he arrived? Is he fallen? Is he shrunk? Is he departed? Is he died? Is he melted?

These must be divided into three categories:

  • "Arrive", "depart", "die" are intransitive verbs and so are ungrammatical in the above uses (except perhaps as deliberate archaisms in the first two cases). ("Go" is an exception in that its past participle can act adjectivally, even though "go" is intransitive.)
  • "Fall" is also intransitive, but (like "go") its past participle is well established as an adjective. However, unlike "gone" (which is almost exclusively a predicative adjective), "fallen" is an attributive adjective. Hence, if you look up "fallen" in Oxford Dictionaries Online, all the examples are of attributive use (i.e. before the noun: "a fallen soldier" - not "the soldier is fallen"), with just one exception (and that in the specialised theological use). Similarly, the Cambridge entry for "fallen" clearly states "before noun".
  • "Change", "shrink", "melt" can be intransitive or transitive. Because they can be transitive, they must allow passive constructions. This means that "is he changed?", "is he shrunk?", "is he melted?" are grammatically correct, even if they don't sound natural. Passives in the simple present often sound unnatural taken out of context, but we can certainly say "ice is melted if it gets warm", though it may be more natural to use the active intransitive ("ice melts"). Passives in the present continuous or present perfect often sound more natural ("he is being changed", "he has been changed").

We use the passive when we mean that something has acted upon the subject. "He is changed" means that something has changed him. "He has changed" doesn't suggest the intervention of an external actor. "He is shrunk" might be found in a narrative written in the historic present in which "I watch helplessly as he is shrunk by the alien shrinking ray"... "He is shrunk" means that something is shrinking him, whereas "he has shrunk" could equally well mean that he's shrunk of his own accord.

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I would consider a much simpler approach. In:

Is he gone?
and
Is he finished?

involve states at the present moment. They are not actions, because we don't know where he went or what he finished. Just "here or not" and "finished or not".

However in the others, actions are implied.

Has he changed? (from some clothing to different ones)
Has he arrived? (movement form point A to point B)
Has he fallen? (movement from standing up to on the ground)
Has he departed? (going from here to somewhere else)
etc.

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