In these two sentences "tired" is always adjective:
I was tired.
I have been tired.
In these two sentences "told" is always part of the passive, perfect participle:
I was told.
I have been told.
How to know when is passive, when is an adjective?

  • 2
    If you look up the words in a dictionary, it will indicate what function they perform. (Tired is only an adjective, and told is only the past tense of a verb.) Mar 31 '19 at 17:38
  • Um, @JasonBassford, tired is the preterite/past participle of to tire. That's how we get its adjective use. It has some other archaic/obsolete verb senses as well. I think you're right about told, though.
    – SamBC
    Apr 3 '19 at 12:51
  • @SamBC What you just said about tired is not supported by Merriam-Webster or Oxford Dictionaries, where it's only listed as an adjective. Apr 3 '19 at 13:22
  • Try merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tire
    – SamBC
    Apr 3 '19 at 13:24
  • @SamBC That has nothing to do with its use in the the sentence I was tired, which is what the question asked about. Apr 3 '19 at 13:26

Firstly, do you always need to know? If someone says "I was bored" is that an adjective or passive? It could be either.

Passive is always "(be verb) (past participle)" so

If you want to test, try using the same word in front of a noun. If it means the same, then you probably have an adjective. On the other hand if you could add a "by" phrase, then you have a passive

I was tired - I was a tired man.

That works, so tired looks like an adjective. Also "I was tired by him" is odd.

The donut was eaten. It was an eaten donut.

That's rather odd, if it's eaten then it isn't a donut anymore. That's probably a passive. You could easily add "The donut was eaten by him" and it still makes sense.

I was told - I was a told man

That doesn't work at all, it must be a passive. You can say "I was told by him"

  • "I was tired by him" is weird, but "I was tired by the exertion" is far less weird. And the non-passive "he tired me" is normal, but not relevant here. Of course, in "I was tired from the exertion" tired is an adjective, and that is more natural.
    – SamBC
    Apr 3 '19 at 13:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.