I have often used the word "offset" as a predicate adjective (or perhaps as part of a passive verb construction?) in the sense of "displaced" or "out of alignment (with)," as in the following sentences:

Each row of bricks is offset by half a brick from the previous row.

The times documented on the form were offset by 7 minutes from their expected values.

But I recently discovered (while attempting to find a synonym) that I cannot really find this adjectival usage of the word "offset" attested in a dictionary or thesaurus.

Merriam-Webster offers a bunch of noun senses plus the following verb senses:

1a : to place over against something : BALANCE
// credits offset debits
b : to serve as a counterbalance for : COMPENSATE
// his speed offset his opponent's greater weight
2 : to form an offset in
// offset a wall

and Wiktionary is similar. Dictionary.com offers adjective senses

of, noting, or pertaining to an offset
placed away from a center line; off-center

but none of the "examples from the web" on that page seem to use the word in these senses so I'm not sure exactly what these particular definitions are getting at.

Thesauruses (e.g. Merriam-Webster, thesaurus.com) likewise only offer synonyms like "counterbalance" or "compensate (for)," not anything like "displaced" or "displace" (depending on whether we interpret my usage as a predicate adjective or a passive verb).

I feel as though my usage is common, but if so I would expect to find it attested in these dictionaries. If I have been using this word incorrectly for all this time, what descriptor would you use to refer to the relationship between, say, two rows of bricks?

  • 1
    Some dictionaries do allow "offset" as an adjective, but strictly as printer's jargon. Perhaps this variation is new enough that it hasn't quite yet made the big time? It seems perfectly natural to me.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 22:00
  • offset amount, offset distance, both adjectives. But not printing necessarily. A page offset etc. of course, can be printing.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 14:10

3 Answers 3


But I recently discovered (while attempting to find a synonym) that I cannot really find this adjectival usage of the word "offset" attested in a dictionary or thesaurus.

You say in your question that you looked up the Merriam-Webster definition of offset. I just looked at that definition myself, and found this:

offset adjective or adverb

It offers no examples of it being used in either of these senses, but Merriam-Webster does define it as both an adjective and adverb.

An example of adjectival use would be:

It was an offset beam.

An example of adverbial use might be:

She jumped and landed offset.

These uses, especially the adverbial one, are uncommon—but the syntax is still possible. Such uses of the word also make sense to me.

  • landed offset does not sound very idiomatic....
    – Lambie
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 18:29

Set is a verb where its plain, past-tense, and past-participle forms are all the same. So when used in be + X constructions, it won't change.

The configuration is set (past-participle).

Offset is merely set with off as a prefix. I'm sure I've heard offsetted before, but offset would be more technically correct.

Your use of offset as a "predicate adjective" is really just the past participle form being used as an adjective, which is common for many verbs to communicate the state of X in terms of a completed verb.

The liquid is gone / has been gone.

Each row of bricks is offset / has been offset.

  • It can be used as a regular adjective, too. an offset amount. an offset measurement.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 18:30

Offset basically has two meanings, and it also used for the term offset printing.

  • an accounting sense: I owe you $10.00 ten dollars, you owe me the same amount. These amounts are said to offset each other. These are known accounting offsets.
  • An offset amount aka an amount offset (adjectives), an one amount offsets another (verb). In everyday language, we would say: The amounts owed cancel each other out. The offset amounts or amounts offset cancel each other other.

Here is an example of that: A provision in reinsurance agreements that permits each party to net amounts due against those payable before making payment. This is especially important in the event of insolvency of one party that ceases to remit amounts due to the other. offset as used to mean cancel out the same amounts involving two different parties

extension of meaning to other contexts: This X offsets that Y. For example, some X might offset [cancel out] some disadvantage.

  • a technical meaning (in the sense of measuring a distance): you have an imaginary line through some physical thing and elements in relation to it are said to be offset to it. Meaning: they are at some distance from that imaginary center line.

- an offset distance [adjective] - the offset for steel beam is x distance [noun]

  • Here is an article that shows pictures with examples of offsets:

offset curb in Los Angeles

  • Here it is in carpentry where the center line is actually shown and there is a tool for marking offset distances:

offset in carpentry- measurement from a center line

Another important use is in offset printing (a basic printing method).

Which is defined here and where offset basically involves transferring ink from one surface to a printing surface.

offset printing

Summary: offset is generally a verb or adjective or noun.

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