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  1. This room [is cleaned] every day.
  2. The window [is broken].

In the first sentence, we have a 'Past Participle (Verb)'.
In the second sentence, we have a 'Past Participle Adjective'.

More examples:

  1. He has broken his glass. <-- 'Broken' as a 'Past Participle' (Verb)
  2. A broken glass. <-- 'Broken' as an 'Adjective'

I've got two questions:

  • Are there rules for distinguishing 'P.P. adjectives' from 'P.P. verbs' for all sentences?
  • Can all 'P.P. verbs' be used as 'P.P. adjectives'? (For example: The word 'cleaned' as an adjective)
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    Are you sure that your second example ("The window is broken") isn't ambiguous?
    – F.E.
    Mar 25, 2015 at 21:27
  • Are you sure that the "broken" in your fourth example ("a broken glass") cannot be a past-participle verb form?
    – F.E.
    Mar 25, 2015 at 21:37
  • @F.E. Do you mean maybe the window is broken every day, or perhaps on special occasions? Mar 26, 2015 at 0:19
  • 2
    @Araucaria I'm way too swamped! :)
    – F.E.
    Mar 26, 2015 at 1:14
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    @Araucaria Adjectival passives vs verbal passives: it be an interesting topic, but there's already been quite a bit written on it, and if one tries to write a post on it, it's like, where does one start and what does one leave out. Besides, it's another useful shibboleth. :)
    – F.E.
    Mar 26, 2015 at 1:18

2 Answers 2

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Are there rules for distinguishing 'P.P. adjectives' from 'P.P. verbs' for all sentences?

No. In fact, your second example ("The window is broken") is ambiguous. The "stative passive" reading with a participial adjective is certainly more common, but an "eventive passive" (regular passive) reading with a past participle is also possible, given appropriate context: "The security camera footage shows part of the event. […] At 1:13 AM, the window is broken by a projectile arriving from off-camera — apparently a thrown rock."

Can all 'P.P. verbs' be used as 'P.P. adjectives'? (For example: The word 'cleaned' as an adjective)

If the verb is transitive, then, probably; it's a common enough pattern that if you have a good reason (in a given context) to use a given participle as an adjective, then your audience will probably be able to follow you.

That said, some past participles would be a stretch; even though "stand" can sometimes be transitive ("the teacher stood one student at each corner of the room"), it's hard to imagine a situation where you would describe someone as "stood" rather than "standing", simply because the latter is such a common word that you'd need a reason to avoid it.

If the verb is not transitive, then this is likely to be too much of a stretch; you can draft an intransitive verb into service as a transitive one if needed, and you can draft the past participle of a transitive verb into service as an adjective if needed, but doing both at once would probably just confuse your audience.

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Thought-provoking question!

I think we need to look at the sentence structure or else it'll be difficult to find it out. While transitive verbs make our task easy as they'd have a direct object following them. the problem occurs when the verb is intransitive.

But then, if you use 'intransitive' verbs, the sentence won't look complete without explaining the verb. For instance, 'break' is transitive and intransitive both (just like 'clean'); now you'll have to talk about the verb further in order to make the sentence complete.

He has broken - won't work

The moment you add '....his glass', we can make out that it is used as a verb.

The adjective pattern will be different than the 'verb pattern' in those sentences with PP.

In English, a 'single word' on its own may stand ambiguous. That's why we say, context is important.

[But let natives come with their take on this].

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  • This is an example of why naming parts of speech is such a useless activity; often the information isn't available. Schrödinger's participle -- you can't tell which one it is until you add material and force a grammaticality reading. But that's not the original sentence -- in the original sentence you just can't tell. Luckily, it doesn't matter, because the distinction is irrelevant to the grammar and to the meaning -- it's just academic pilpul. Jun 25, 2022 at 15:18

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