I am an EFL learner from Thailand. I have some questions about passive voice and adjective as I need your help on.

I am looking for adjectives in literature (as I need to conduct a small research on adjectives in literary works). But I am so confused between passive voice and adjective.

The given sentence is

'the city is burned' (someone burns the city)

I think it is a passive voice. but when I compare with

'I am interested' (something interests me.)

their structure, to me, look the same.

My question are: Do you consider the 'burned' in the first example an adjective? and How can we differentiate between passive voice structure and adjective?

Thank you in advance,


  • 2
    The difference between both isn't clear-cut, and relies on context. For a more detailed analyis, see as an example: Is “annoyed” passive?
    – Yay
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 9:49
  • With the present simple, and without any actor, or any additional phrase in such a sentence, the adjective interpretation would be likelier. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 5:59

4 Answers 4


Out of context, it would be logical to assume that this is the adjective as a consequence of past events, in that "the city was burned" by someone or something and is now being described as "burned". A present construction in the passive voice would yield "the city is being burned (to the ground)". Another possibility in the passive voice is that "the city is burned every few years", again dependent on the context, which you have not included.


It really depends on who you talk to and what the topic is. The general definition of "be burned" is it's a passive verb as opposed to an active verb, "They burned the city."

However, as for functionality, the passive form serves two purposes.

  1. is as an adjective form.
  2. is to reduce emphasis on who did it and focus on the condition of "city" in the case of your example.

Adjective form: to support the reason it is considered an adjective is you can also used burned before the noun. "The burned city...."

When discussing passive verb vs adjective, it really depends on the reason for the discussion. Writers usually discuss passive verb vs active verb.

For the sake of your study, I would say it's safe to regard it as an adjective. I teach English and I teach that scenario as an adjective.


A passive sentence inverts the usual subject/object relation -- "The ball was thrown by him" -- it places the object as the subject, and the subject as the object.

In your case, "The city is burned", there is no object becoming the subject. There is only a simple statement -- "The city is burned." Diagramming the sentence, we have "The city" (noun) "is" (verb) "burned" (adj, subject compliment).

There is nothing passive.

You can't infer something about the object because there isn't one.


English is a context dependent language

The sentence "The city is burned" has no context and so is ambiguous. Here are two examples that show the two possible uses.

  1. There is a city in Transylvania. All the houses are built of wood. Every year, the city is burned and a new city is built on the ashes. (passive)

  2. Why is there smoke rising from the city? Because the city is burned! (adjective)

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