I was born in 1980.

What part of speech is "born"? verb? past participle?

It can be a past participle as in " I was seen ."

It can be verb as in " It was pulled by a car ."


Both seen and pulled in your examples are past participles employed in passive constructions.

Note that it is meaningless to ask if a form is a 'participle or a verb'. A participle is a verb inflection which may act as a verb or as another part of speech or as both simultaneously. The past participle, for instance, may act either as a component of a passive or perfect construction or as an adjective or as both a passive component and an adjective:

We have seen that man.
That man has been seen by us.
That is the man seen by us.

Born is tricky. In origin it is the past participle of the verb bear meaning carry. As far back as we can see, women and female animals have been said to bear their young while pregnant and to have borne their young when the pregnancy ended in a live offspring. BE born was originally the passive version of the same verb.

Eventually, however, the passive sense bleached out of the passive form. When we speak today of a child being born, there is no longer a sense that this was an action performed upon the child by the mother; it is, rather, an event. We no longer say that John Smith was born on April 1, 1950 by Mary Jones Smith; we say at most that John Smith was born on April 1, 1950 to Mary Jones Smith. This 'depassivized' sense is hinted at in spelling: today we spell the past participle of bear as ‹borne›, but the corresponding term in the birth idiom is ‹born›, without the ‹e›.

Somewhere over on ELU John Lawler has suggested that BE born is a unique English deponent verb—a verb which is passive in form but active in sense. That's a very attractive suggestion if you're familiar with the notion of deponent verbs; but I think it's more helpful to think of BE born as a unique idiom which cannot usefully be decomposed beyond what is needed to allow for inflecting BE.

  • While I understand the difference between "born to" and "born by" in the context even without ELL, I do not really understand the explanation regarding the action and the event. I mean, I understand the words, but I cannot really agree with them, in this short fragment of text. Is there some reference available on the subject, please? – virolino Mar 15 '19 at 11:09

The base forms of to bear are bear/bore/borne. Beside borne there is a second form "born" used only in sentences like "I was born in 2001".


It is the past-participle of bear. The mother bears the child. The child is born. It is synonymous with "carried", past-participle of "carry". The mother carries the baby in her womb.

  • 2
    W e l l . . . There's at least a touch of etymological fallacy there. We distinguish the PaPpl of bear orthographically: it's borne. And I think that reflects a semantic reality: although the mother bears the child all the way to birth, the child is not born until the birth is perfected. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 27 '15 at 20:11
  • Do you really see this as etymological fallacy? The mother is bearing the child (in her womb) = the mother is carrying the child (in her womb). The child has been born = the mother has carried the child to term and has "given birth" to the child. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 28 '15 at 11:21
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    I meant merely that the etymological connection with bear has been largely bleached out of the idiom. I think it's important to tell learners that BE born is no longer deployed as a passive construction; we do not say She was born in 1912 by Enid Milhouse or By whom was she born? – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 28 '15 at 13:43
  • @StoneyB: True, dat. We find only the vestiges "He was born to poor parents" or "he was born of a noble family" or "a Savior is born to us" or "he was born of a woman". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 28 '15 at 13:59

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