Most past participles can act as predicate adjectives:

"The island was inhabited."

but there are some words that may look like both parts of speech, but can only be used in one way or the other:

"The student was flabbergasted." Flabbergasted is adjectival, but there isn't really a verb "to flabbergast."

"The lazy employee was fired." Fired describes what happened to her (verb), but isn't really a trait she would possess.

So, is there a simple way to test whether a given -ed word is one or the other or both?

Here's what I've come up with and I'd like your assessment:

Put the word in these sentences:

  • "the thing seems _____" if it sounds natural, it's a predicate adjective.
  • "the thing has (been) _____" If it sounds natural, it's a past participle -- been is used for transitive verbs, omitted for intransitive verbs..
  • If your word works in both, it can be used either way.

Does that cover my bases, or is there a better way?

  • 1
    This is English grammar, by the way, not linguistics. And the tests require grammaticality judgements on altered sentences: He was irritated with/at Jim (psychological predicate adjective with prepositional phrase) vs He was irritated by Jim (participle in Passive construction).
    – jlawler
    Jun 30, 2015 at 14:44
  • I don't think that there is a mechanical test. You have to decide it by logic.
    – rogermue
    Jul 7, 2015 at 5:10

1 Answer 1


"very" modifies only adjectives, not verbs: "*John very shot my dog." -> *"My dog was very shot."

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