I'm noticing that some English verbs use the -ed suffix to indicate the current state. Using this example: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/base

Specifically, the verb sense, ‘the film is based on a novel by Pat Conroy’

I (incorrectly?) thought current state verbs were presented in base form or progressive form. Are there a set of verbs that use -ed to indicate current state? Is there a name for this concept?


2 Answers 2


"Based" here is either the past/passive participle of the verb base used in the passive construction "BE + past participle", or an adjective derived from the past participle (a departicipial adjective—also known as a "participial adjective"). "The film is based on a novel by Pat Conroy" means approximately the same thing as "[The creators of the film] based the film on a novel by Pat Conroy".

Running through a few tests for establishing adjective-hood, I couldn't find a totally clear indication of whether "based" is an adjective or a participle in this context1.

But in either case, it's not really a case of using -ed to mark a verb form indicating the current state. The thing that indicates present state in this sentence is mainly the auxiliary "is".

Tests for adjective-hood in English

1. I go over some of these tests in my answer to a question on ELU (which is partly based on BillJ's answer on the same page).

"very" test

In my judgement, "based" in this sentence doesn't pass the "very" test. The "very" test for distinguishing departicipial adjectives from participles is based on the commonly accepted fact that a verb cannot be modified by the word "very" (in a comment below, Greg Lee gave the following example showing how we can see that "very" obviously doesn't work with "based" when it is used as a finite verb: "*The author very based the film on a novel"). Therefore, if the word "based" in your sentence can be modified by the word "very", we can be sure that it is not a verb (and so we would assume that it is a departicipial adjective). But in fact, we can't modify "based" with "very" in your sentence:

  • *"the film is very based on a novel by Pat Conroy"

Not all adjectives can be modified by "very", so failing the "very" test doesn't prove that something isn't an adjective. Thus, the "very" test is inconclusive.

"un-" test

"Based" in this context also doesn't seem to past the "un-" test, which establishes that something is an adjective (keeping in mind that the adjective prefix "un-" functions as a negative prefix, unlike the "reversative" verb prefix "un-"):

  • *"the film is unbased on a novel by Pat Conroy"

As with the "very" test, this only fails to show that "based" is an adjective here: it doesn't show that "based" is not an adjective, because not all adjectives can be prefixed with un-. (In fact, based on the results of a Google search, the word based followed by a prepositional phrase starting in on can be prefixed with un- in some other sentences, so it seems that based is an adjective sometimes; but I'm not sure what the criteria are for when it is and isn't possible to use "unbased on..."--it may be that only some speakers use this construction.)

"seems" test

"Based" in "based on a novel by Pat Conroy" might be able to pass the "seem" test, which is apparently considered to establish that something is not a verb/participle:

  • ?"the film seems based on a novel by Pat Conroy"

Compare the use of the in my view semantically similar "seems based on a true story" in the following quote:


One test out of three doesn't seem quite convincing to me; also, even if it is the case that "based" is an adjective in some sentences, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is an adjective in the original sentence that you brought up. That said, it's true that the sentence has a stative rather than a dynamic meaning, and "stative" passives often are analyzed as containing departicipial adjectives rather than participles.

One interesting thing about based on... (or unbased on...) as an adjective is that the prepositional phrase starting with "on" seems to be an obligatory complement. According to Rodney Huddleston's Introduction to the Grammar of English, "very few adjectives take obligatory complements" (p. 305)--Huddleston gives the example fond: we can say "Sally is fond of sweets" but not *"Sally is fond". Other examples are devoid of and lo(a)th to.

  • 1
    It seems to fail both ways in *"the based film was too long" and *"the film was based by an agent"
    – amI
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 20:34
  • @amI: I don't think those examples actually tell use much about the part of speech of "based". It might just be the case that "based" is an adjective that cannot be used without a complement PP starting with "on", in the same way that we don't usually use the verb "base" without a complement PP. Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 21:03
  • Wouldn't that make it a phrasal verb -- another point for 'participle'?
    – amI
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 21:50
  • 1
    @GregLee: I don't understand how you know that "based" isn't an adjective. Could you explain the argument for that in more detail? Passivization by itself doesn't convert a verb into an adjective, but departicipial adjectives clearly exist. Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 20:59
  • 1
    @GregLee: Different authors call the same adjectives "participial adjectives", "departicipial adjectives", "deverbal adjectives", but I didn't think this difference in terminology signified anything important. Huddleston defines a departicipial adjective as "an adjective derived (by conversion) from the participial form of a verb." Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 21:45

The state is an acquired state meaning that it does not necessarily follow from the semantics of the word "film": Film, in its "naked" sense, does not have to be "based" to mean film. In adding the participle "based", the speaker refers to (albeit with inferior focus on) the external force that caused the change of state of the film (i. e. the force that made a film that film). The film, as an enduring, "reverberating" manifestation (canonically irreversible manifestation that is) of that input of effort, is a result, usually explicated using a perfect form to become understood as a result of that input. Passive and perfect often go hand in hand, since the latter is learned by thinking through the former: "I cut the apple." (active) > "(Now see,) The apple is cut." (result, perfect) > "The apple is being/becomes cut." (passive) Without supposing a perfect (=(canonically irreversible) result) state (such as the apple by itself staying irreversibly cut) one would never grasp the gradient of force, one could never distinguish between subject and object. In short: present-imperfective-active; past-perfective-passive. Present passive is a complex of those more primitive aspect/tenses. The passive follows from the perfect. The ambiguity comes from "is based" being both interpretable as perfect (i. e. result after conclusion of action) or as passive (i. e. result co-occuring with action (of being affected)), as sumelic has already pointed out in the first paragraph of her/his answer.

Cf. Uni Konstanz' Universals #507, #895, #958 (https://typo.uni-konstanz.de/archive/nav/browse.php?number=1&PHPSESSID=udvvebsagjco5gls4m5sm8aj451ca7nc)

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