I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this. In the passive voice, we could see sentences like these:

   "The car is heated."

   "His spirits are lifted."

   "The books are packed." vs "The concert hall is packed."

   "The wall is painted."

When such sentences are not in the past, I can't figure out how to identify if the final word is an adjective, a past participle or a verb.

In sentences using the perfect tenses, I understand that we use the past participle, but is this acting as an adjective or as a verb? Eg:

   "He had been broken by the news."

   "They've been bored since Friday." (This I'm pretty sure is the adjective, but I'm putting it in here for completeness)

I've read in some places that we should just call it a past participle and leave it at that, but this is more confusing to me. How can it be a past participle and not act as either an adjective or a verb? Surely it must be a participle acting as a verb or an adjective?

And in a sentence like: "The speaker wants to be transferred," am I right that this final word is an adjective because it is following "to be"?

I suppose this post is just illustrating my numerous questions about this. As you can see, I have many. If there are any resources out there that someone could refer me to, or if someone could offer a detailed explanation about this usage, I would be most grateful.



1 Answer 1


Many of the examples could be interpreted as either a verb or an adjective.

"The wall is painted."

  • If you point to a wall covered in paints, then "painted" is an adjective.
  • If you are narrating a story, and there's a live scene of painters actively painting the wall, then "is painted" could be a passive verb construction.

"The car is heated."

  • If you are narrating a story, and there's a scene of a blow torch which is blasting the car, then "is heated" could be a passive verb construction.
  • If you are referring to an already warm car that has temperature controls, then "heated" could be an adjective.

The speaker wants to be transferred

This seems very much like a passive verb, rather than an adjective.

Am I right that this final word is an adjective because it is following "to be"?

Do you have a link or a reference for this "rule" that it must be an adjective? I don't believe so.

The wall is going to be painted.

This seems to contain the dual meanings of "painted", mentioned earlier.

  1. A passive verb, as in "The wall is going to be destroyed."


  1. An adjective, as in "After they paint it, the wall is going to be blue."

If the same exact sentence can have two meanings, which is the right one?

Often times, based on the context, one of the meanings makes a lot of sense, and the other one doesn't. "The principle of charity or charitable interpretation requires interpreting a speaker's statements in the most rational way possible." If there is no way to pick the best meaning, then perhaps you can provisionally imagine they have said both things.

  • This is great - thank you. You completely answered my question, and the fundamental misconception that lead to it. I would upvote but I don't have the privileges to do so yet. I will return to do so when I have them! Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 8:55

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