Why was an auxiliary verb omitted before the past participle "taken"?

Maogamalcha, which a little before had boasted of being impregnable, and had laughed to scorn the vain efforts of the emperor, suddenly found itself taken by assault and undergoing the extremities of sack and pillage.

From History of the Sasanian Empire by George Rawlinson

  • The link doesn't work. Could you fix it, please? And maybe add the title of the text also? On second thoughts, better do it myself.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 27, 2020 at 10:23

3 Answers 3


I can't imagine what auxiliary verb you expect to see.  What I can do is explain why none fits under a traditional analysis.


Maogamalcha ... suddenly found itself taken by assault....

When we disregard the parenthetical clause, we find one predicate.  That predicate is formed by the past-tense verb "found". 

The verb "found" is complexly transitive.  A complex transitive verb licenses two arguments: a direct object and an object complement.  The complement modifies the object through the verb's licensing.  In your original example, the direct object is "itself", and the object complement is a coordination, the combination of "taken by assault" and "undergoing the extremities of sack and pillage".  The two elements of this coordination are parallel -- they do the same job in the same way.  "Taken" and "undergoing" are both participles, each forming a participial phrase. 

One possible finite verb that can act as an auxiliary for participles like "taken" and "undergoing" is the copula.  Some form of the verb to be could take these participial phrases as its argument.

* Maogamalcha ... suddenly found itself was taken by assault....

This leaves us with a problem.  The predicating verb phrase "was taken" needs a subject.  What subject might that be here?

It isn't "itself".  The clause "itself was taken by assault" doesn't work.  In standard English, the reflexive form of "itself" doesn't make sense as a subject.  Even if we pretend that it does, the independent clause "it(self) was taken by assault" is not a suitable object for the predicating verb "found".  A subordinated clause, like "that it was taken by assault", would be a suitable direct object, but unfortunately that clause does not exist in your original example, and it will not exist if the only thing we insert is an auxiliary.

When we insert a "was" in front of this "taken", we find that something essential is missing -- several things, in fact.  We find a predicate without a subject.  We find a transitive verb without an object.  We find the suggestion of an embedded independent clause without any idea of how that clause should relate to its matrix.  In short, we find that we can't parse the sentence.

It is far easier to parse the sentence as it was originally written.  The subject of "found" is "Maogamalcha".  The direct object of "found" is "itself".  The object complement in the predicate is the coordination "taken by assault and undergoing the extremities of sack and pillage".  Either one of the coordinated elements could function as a complement on its own.

Object complements (and subject complements as well) exist in two varieties.  There are predicate nominatives and predicate attributives.  Under a traditional style of teaching, those are typically described as predicate nouns and predicate adjectives.

These elements, these constituents, are participial phrases.  In the original sentence, they function as predicate attributives.  They do the same sort of job that an adjective typically does.  In the context of the original sentence, Maogamalcha is a taken city.  It found itself taken by assault.  From this, we must assume that an assault took the city.

Predicate attributives are licensed modifiers. 

We can see that participles and their phrases also work as direct modifiers, since constructions like "a taken city" and "a city taken by assault" are perfectly ordinary coherent noun phrases.  They work much the same as phrases like "a large city" or "a city larger than any other".  Simple adjectives like "large" don't require any license to work.  They simply need access to some suitable thing to modify.

Since they can work as direct modifiers, they can also work as indirect modifiers, as licensed modifiers.  It's still the same job, but now it's a job done through a license and under a governor.  The verb "found" governs the way that the participial phrase coordination modifies the direct object.

It can do that because and only because there exists no finite verb in those phrases.

Nothing is missing.  Every relationship which is required is also fulfilled.


No verb has been omitted. However, found itself taken... and undergoing could have been expressed as found that it had been taken... and was undergoing.

To find oneself followed by a participle is quite a common construction, expressing in a concise way find that [verb] is being or has been done to oneself.


Maogamalcha, which a little before had boasted of being impregnable, and had laughed to scorn the vain efforts of the emperor, suddenly found itself [taken by assault and undergoing the extremities of sack and pillage].

There is no omission here.

"Found" is a catenative verb and the subordinate past-participial clause "taken by assault and undergoing the extremities of sack and pillage" is its catenative complement.

The reciprocal pronoun "itself" is the syntactic object of "found", and the semantic (understood) subject of the subordinate clause.

The NP "itself" is called a 'raised' object, since the verb that "itself" relates to is higher in the constituent structure than the one it relates to semantically.

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