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The Stative Passive

Past participles in a passive-voice sentence can act like adjectives, in the sense that they describe a noun.

  • The car is old.
  • The car is locked.

In the first example, the word old is an adjective and describes car. In the second example, locked is a past participle; it functions as an adjective and also describes car.

Essentially, the participle is derived from passive-voice sentences like the following.

  • The car has been locked by someone. (The car is locked.)
  • The window was repaired by someone. (The window is repaired.)

The passive past participle can be used to describe an existing state or situation; when it does, it is called the stative passive. Consider the following examples.

  • I locked the car door five minutes ago. Now the car door is locked.
  • Peter broke the window two days ago. Now the window is broken.
  • We were without water for a week. Now the pipe is finally fixed.

In all three examples, the action took place earlier, as described in the first sentence, and the state of that action in the present is expressed in the second sentence of each pair. In these second sentences, the past participle functions as an adjective.

Notice that there is no by phrase in any of the sentences. However, the stative passive is often followed by prepositions other than by.

  • She is satisfied with her job.
  • Marc is married to Vanessa.

There are many other common adjectives in English that are, in reality, stative passive structures.

  • Frank is interested. I’m bored.
  • The store was closed. He saw nothing but closed stores.
  • The work was finished. He took the finished work home.

Following is a list of commonly used adjectives that are derived from present and past participles.

  • amazing/amazed
  • boring/bored
  • confusing/confused
  • disappointing/disappointed
  • exciting/excited
  • exhausting/exhausted
  • frightening/frightened
  • interesting/interested
  • satisfying/satisfied
  • surprising/surprised
  • terrifying/terrified
  • tiring/tired

The present participle is used as a modifier for the active voice. The past participle is used as a modifier for the passive voice.

  • The athlete was amazing. (This adjective describes what the athlete is.)
  • The athlete was amazed. (This adjective describes what happened to the athlete.)
  • This book is boring. (This adjective describes what the book is.)
  • This student is bored. (This adjective describes what happened to the student.)

When the progressive form of be is used with past participles, the sentence is in the true passive voice. It is only with the simple conjugation of be that a stative passive structure can exist. In addition, a by phrase is never used in a stative passive structure. Compare these sets of example sentences.

PASSIVEThe roof is being repaired by an experienced roofer.
STATIVE PASSIVEThe roof is repaired.
PASSIVEThe children were being spoiled by Uncle John.
STATIVE PASSIVEThe children were spoiled.
PASSIVEThe gas is being turned off by the repairman.
STATIVE PASSIVEThe gas is turned off.

When certain past participles are used as adjectives in the stative passive, they are often combined with specific prepositions. Following are some frequently used combinations.

  • accustom – to
  • acquaint – with
  • compose – of
  • cover – with
  • dedicate – to
  • devote – to
  • disappoint – in, with
  • dress – in
  • finish – with
  • interest – in
  • make – with
  • marry – to
  • oppose – to
  • relate – to
  • satisfy – with
  • scare – of
  • tire – of

When using one of these verbs in the static passive, the appropriate preposition must accom-pany it.

  • The bride is dressed all in white.
  • was tired of all his complaining.

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