In this sentence:

He is the second person ___ this morning.

A. falling
B. to fall
C. fallen
D. fell

The answer is B.

I do understand the past tense fell is not a non-finite verb. But I am confused why the participles “falling and fallen” do not work here. Isn’t the blank word trying to modify “the second person”, so both infinitives and participles as adjectives should be applicable?

Thank you!

  • "Falling" and "to fall" are both possible depending on context, though the latter is more likely. Whichever form is used, although it is functioning as a modifier, it is not an adjective but a non-finite clause. Not everything that modifies a noun is an adjective!
    – BillJ
    Apr 26 at 12:36
  • 2
    The reason fallen doesn’t work is that it’s a past participle of an intransitive verb. One could use past particles of transitive verbs. Compare “the second person seen this morning” or “the second person fed this morning.” Both of those are fine syntactically. And in both cases the past participles describe actions that the people have experienced or suffered or been the recipients or patients of. If one spoke metaphorically of the people as trees (in the context of lumber jacks), one could even say “the second person felled today.” Apr 26 at 12:43
  • 1
    He is the second soldier fallen on that battlefield.
    – Lambie
    Apr 26 at 14:34
  • Good point, @Lambie. Though in that usage, fallen strikes me as an adjectival use more than an inflected form. We don’t often use fall unadorned as a synonym for die. If someone said, “He fell during the Battle of Gettysburg,” it’d be understood and not too odd sounding, but, “He is the second soldier fallen this morning,” just seems off. “To have fallen”? Sure. But even then, killed or lost seems more natural. Apr 27 at 0:56
  • Many thanks to your answers! Made me clearer on the point!
    – Freddy
    Apr 28 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


Yes, both the present and past participles are grammatically valid here, but neither would be as common as the infinitive.

The progressive aspect usually indicates an ongoing action. However, it seems unusual for a person to be falling over an extended duration of time. Furthermore, the sentence implies that the first person is falling, too, but if they are falling at the same time, then why would this person be labelled the "second" (which implies that his falling takes place afterward)?

The past participle would not be as unusual but would still be less likely than "He is the second person who has fallen this morning." The past participle would be more likely for a transitive verb, e.g.:

He is the second person saved by Superman this morning.


He is the second person felled by Lex Luthor this morning.

(Thanks to Paul Tennenbaum for suggesting transitive "fell" in a comment.)

  • thank you very much,very helpful👍
    – Freddy
    Apr 28 at 13:10

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