In the book Understanding English grammar by Martha Kolln and Robert Funk, ninth edition I was working through some of the passive voice exercises (pg 89) and wanted to ask two questions on my made up sentences:

I was broken - broken is adjective  (Be pattern)

I was broken - broken is -en form of the verb (passive form of break)

1) Firstly, do both sentences have the same meaning? and

2) Is my understanding correct to write and explain my question this way?

Kind Regards,

Philip

Original Post
Philip posted:

I was broken - broken is adjective  (Be pattern)
I was broken - broken is -en form of the verb (passive form of break)

1) Firstly, do both sentences have the same meaning? and
2) Is my understanding correct to write and explain my question this way?

Hi, Philip,

Since I don't know what literal or figurative meaning you have in mind with "I" as the subject, I'd like to change "I" to "it" before answering your question:

(a) It was broken. (copulative; "broken" is an adjective)
(b) It was broken. (passive; "broken" is a past participle)

Let's suppose "it" refers to a vase. If the vase lay shattered on the table, we may say (a), describing the past state of the vase. The sentence is adjectival.

The passive sentence is quite different in meaning. We could add an agent "by"-phrase and a time adverbial to bring out the difference:

(b1-passive) The vase was broken by John at 10:23 a.m.

That sentence does not describe the past state of the vase, but rather a punctual event in which the vase went from being unbroken to being broken -- cf.:

(b1-active) John broke the vase at 10:23 a.m.

Hi David,

Thank you for the reply - I appreciate and understand the explanation.

One other thing, am I correct to say that there is no formal marker to indicate either one of the clauses ie. you need a context in order to determine the function of the clause (as well as a dictionary to determine whether the word can be adjectival).

Many thanks,

Philip

Philip posted:
One other thing, am I correct to say that there is no formal marker to indicate either one of the clauses ie. you need a context in order to determine the function of the clause (as well as a dictionary to determine whether the word can be adjectival).

Hi, Philip,

Yes, you need to see more than just "BE + [past participle]" to be able to tell for certain whether the clause is passive or copulative.

In many cases, however, the sentence will itself provide clues. Look at any adverbials you find and ask yourself what the sentence means.

Tense can also provide clues. Sentences in the present tense like "The store is closed" or "John is married" naturally lend themselves to adjectival interpretation.

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