The United States Declaration of Independence contains one of the most well known and enduring lines in English:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

and was paraphrased by Michelle Obama in her speech at the Democratic National Convention:

"All are created equal."

The Massachusetts Constitution contains

All men are born free and equal...

and The Virginia Declaration of Rights contains

... all men are by nature equally free and independent ...

While I understand the Declaration of Independence to mean

All equally have the same rights

Would it not have been more grammatically correct to use the adverb

All are created equally

I realise that

All are equally created

may have a different meaning.

  • 4
    No. In this case, "equal" is correct. The DoI isn't talking about how all men are created, but that all men are created equal. It is an equivalence: all men are equal by birth. In this use, "equal" is not an adverb. Jul 26, 2016 at 13:46
  • 1
    Related: What does the word “equally” mean in this context? I think visitors to that question might be interested in the answers here and vice-versa.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 26, 2016 at 16:29

4 Answers 4


Equal, the adjective, is correct here.

Created equally, with the adverb, implies that some things are more and some are less "created"—which would presumably mean (it's not idiomatic English) that they owe their origins to a greater or lesser degree to some sort of act of creation, as opposed to having arising spontaneously.

Equal is not an adverb but a "subject-oriented predicate complement", a term which describes the subject and is attributed to it as a result of the action of the verb. Compare, for instance:

Coffee was served black. Coffee was served in large mugs.

Black and in large mugs are subject-oriented predicate complements.

All men are created equal thus means that all men (and women, too!) were created as equal—the creative act caused them to be equal.

  • 1
    Is it possible to see in large mugs as an obligatory adjunct? researchgate.net/publication/…
    – Kinzle B
    Jul 26, 2016 at 16:00
  • 1
    @KinzleB Neither black nor in large mugs is obligatory, and neither is an "adjunct". Jul 26, 2016 at 16:03
  • 1
    That paper suggests the infelicitous use of "This house was built" and "a built house". An adjunct like "in 1990" or "recently" could be required. Perhaps it's different to OP's example.
    – Kinzle B
    Jul 26, 2016 at 16:10
  • 1
    @KinzleB A very interesting article. Note that Goldberg and Ackermann are discussing apparently obligatory constituents; they're asking under what pragmatic circumstances some constituent is required, and why, and they specifically point out pragmatic circumstances (eg, ex (25)) under which no further constituent is required Jul 26, 2016 at 16:26
  • 1
    Did the serving cause the coffee to be black? Or did the serving merely act as a conduit for already-black coffee? The crew of the Enterprise was beamed down intact.
    – TimR
    Jul 27, 2016 at 1:06

The attribute inheres in the created not in the act of creating.

You can take are created as a quasi-copula complemented by a predicate adjective that applies to that which is created.

We don't say born freely do we? Created equal is perfectly grammatical.


"Created equal" means "created such that they are equal".

A homosexual man might say, "Your God created me gay!". This is the same grammar: gay is an adjective, complement to the verb created.

(And note, by the way, it cannot be: "... created me gaily!")

"Created equally" is an awkward application of an adverb to a verb. A speaker who uses this might be making a mistake, having intended to say "created equal", or might be trying to say "created according to the same procedure, to the same level of completion".

"Equally" is usually a helping adverb in an adverbial phrase as in "equally well", "equally far" and so on. By itself, it usually refers to something being done such that there are even proportions:

  • "The food rations were divided equally among the stranded passengers."

  • "Daniel treated his three children equally when it came to love or discipline."

To say, "created to the same level of completion, by the same procedure", we normally say "created in the same way". Equally doesn't function very effectively as a synonym for in the same way; at least not in all the circumstances in which we can use in the same way.


It reminds me of a slogan-like sentence: "make it possible". If we paraphrase that in a passive voice, we get this: "it is made possible". I think this follows the same structure or grammar as "all are created equal".

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .