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What's the role of "polluted" in the sentence?Is it passive form of the verb "pollute" or an adjective to describe the status of the air?

There is much evidence to show that the air we breathe is polluted.

the meaning depends on the role of the "pollute" in the sentence..correct me if I'm wrong.

4 Answers 4

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There is much evidence to show that the air we breathe is polluted.

Grammatically, in this sentence, "polluted" can be either an adjective or the passive form of the verb "pollute."

1) It can be an adjective, because it modifies the noun (air) by describing its quality:

Adjective is:

any member of a class of words that modify nouns and pronouns, primarily by describing a particular quality of the word they are modifying... (Dictionary.com)

2) Polluted can be also a passive form of the verb "pollute," because you can imagine that it describes a subject (air) that is acted upon (polluted) by something.

Passive voice:

With the passive voice, the subject is acted upon by some other performer of the verb. (Grammarly)

In this particular case, you can consider "polluted" an adjective, because the emphasis is on the air quality rather than on how it has become polluted.

You can use another example and say that air is sabotaged, which, again, could be an adjective or passive form of the verb sabotage, but "sabotaged" much more strongly suggests that the air was acted upon, so, in this case you could consider it a passive form of the verb rather than an adjective.

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Is it passive form of the verb "pollute" or an adjective to describe the status of the air?

An adjective.

the meaning depends on the role of the "pollute" in the sentence..correct me if I'm wrong.

Correct, it depends on the sentence. The same word could be a participle/adjective, or a passive verb, depending on the context.

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  • could you explain why it's adjective and not a passive verb?
    – r0ck
    Jul 24, 2019 at 0:55
  • Yes, it would need something like "... is polluted by industry" to be passive.
    – user98746
    Jul 24, 2019 at 1:29
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    @r0ck One way you can demonstrate it is with a very-test: You can't *very pollute something (that'd be ungrammatical because pollute is a verb), but you can put very in your example because it's an adjective: the air we breathe is very polluted.
    – user230
    Feb 6, 2020 at 12:16
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Here, it's an adjective. It follows a linking verb.

"Polluted" could be:

an adjective, or part or an adjective the simple past of "pollute" a past participle; part of a verb phrase: "will have been polluted"

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You're right that the sentence is technically ambiguous. We use an inflected form of be along with a past participle to express the passive voice. We can also use use an inflected form of be along with a participial adjective as a predicate. Both constructions look the same, even though one involves a participle and the other involves a participial adjective.

But in this specific sentence, it is very unlikely that the reader will understand the word "polluted" as a participle rather than as an adjective. The focus of the sentence is on describing the state of the air, not on describing some action that is done to the air.

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