Sometimes it's difficult to tell if a word is being used as a verb or adjective if it's used in the past participle form - e.g. in the sentence 'I was delighted'.

Would it be possible to state that if you can place the adverbs 'very' and 'so' in front of a word, then that word is functioning as an adjective? Would that be a valid marker?

Your views would be greatly appreciated.

  • It's a complicated issue. For example, the sit is taken; he is taken. First one is used as a past participle and second one as an adjective. I guess someone will elaborate an answer for this.
    – Schwale
    Mar 6 '16 at 15:04

The question of whether a word is an adjective or not is not always clear-cut. There are several tests which can be applied: if all of them pass, the word is clearly an adjective, while if all of them fail, the word is clearly not an adjective. But there are cases where only some pass, and then there is a judgment whether to count the word as an adjective or not. An example of a word which passes only some tests is "former" - it can precede a noun ('a former minister'), but it cannot be used predicatively ('he is former') or quantified ('a very former minister').

Certainly, qualification with "so" or "very" is one of the common tests, and if you can use them, then the word is probably an adjective (or an adverb, not relevant here).

I was delighted is usually adjectival (as you say, the possibility of I was so delighted implies that). If there is an explicit agent, it can be verbal (I was delighted by each successive vista that opened out as I walked through the park), but I'm not sure that it could be when there is no agent.


You have to judge by your experience of language or by logic whether "I was delighted" describes a state or whether it could be a passive (describing an action).

Sometimes a past participle can be an adjective and describe a state as in "When we came to the river we saw that the bridge was (already) destroyed, so we couldn't cross the river and had to go back."

The same expression can describe a passive action: The bridge was destroyed (by soldiers, in the last war, in 1945).

Well, I have never needed a mechanical test to decide whether description of state or of passive action is meant. At least the trick with "very" doesn't work properly.

  • This completely fails to answer the question: it tells the questioner to apply an unspecified subjective test. -1
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 6 '16 at 23:44
  • I think the feeling for description of a state and description of a passive action is no subjective test,
    – rogermue
    Apr 8 '16 at 20:51

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