English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What is the precise meaning of "feared drowned" in http://www.deccanchronicle.com/channels/nation/south/6-gitam-students-feared-drowned-rushukonda-326.

I got the intended meaning, but I am confused in spotting the main verb. Is "fear" is the main verb and "drown" the past participle, or the other way round - "fear" is p.p and "drown" is main verb? I'd appreciate any broad explanation regarding this type of usage, which sounded odd to my ears.

share|improve this question
up vote 5 down vote accepted

You can interpret "feared drowned" as meaning "feared to have drowned". i.e.,

Three men feared drowned = Three men are feared to have drowned.

The drowned is parasitic or dependent on the 'feared', and so feared is the main verb.

Now what is "drowned"? It appears not to be a verb, but rather a verbal adjective (i.e., participle). This is because you cannot use a full verb expression in that kind of construction. For example, you cannot say

Three men feared sold nuclear material to North Korea*

to mean

Three men are feared to have sold nuclear material to North Korea.

For this reason I think it is better to see "drowned" and its equivalents as verbal adjectives, and not proper verbs.

However, I do not think the original construction is as uncommon or as inelegant as Chris suggests in his answer. For instance the following is a perfectly good sentence:

Four girls feared dead have been found in safety in the forest.

This is much clearer and simpler than saying

Four girls that were feared to have died have been found in safety in the forest.

Finally, note that instead of 'feared', the main verb could be 'thought', 'considered', 'believed,' 'assumed,' and some other verbs of attitude.

share|improve this answer
I slightly disagree with this analysis. It's not feared to have drowned but feared to be drowned. Compare feared lost. That has to be expanded to feared to be lost. And it's feared dead rather than feared died. – Peter Shor Oct 18 '12 at 16:57
Aren't I correct that expansions of contractions don't need to capture any surface properties of their original form? "Aren't I" expanding to "Am I not", for example. Where there's a choice, as in "to have drowned" vs "to be drowned", I propose the decision should be in favour of the expanded form that best captures the meaning. And journalists usually mean the former, that people have drowned, rather than are drowned, because the former is more narrative and the latter more stative, and journalists usually intend to write in a vivid, narrative voice. – Merk Oct 19 '12 at 1:28
@Mark: the rule is: any time you have "feared verbed", it expands to "feared to be verbed". Sometimes this means the same as "feared to have verbed", but I don't think you should say there's a choice. Consider the difference between "U.S. yacht team feared lost" and "U.S. yacht team feared defeated". Saying you have a choice could confuse ESL speakers on this site. – Peter Shor Oct 20 '12 at 15:51

Yes, the rest of the article contradicts the headline, stating that the students definitely did drown.

Firstly, it should be recognised that the headline is (as often) an elliptical expression, in this case for 'Six students are feared to be (/have) drowned'.

Secondly, notice that the students are not doing the fearing - it is the implicit outside observer / commentator. A paraphrase would be 'It is feared that six students have drowned,' or 'We fear that six students have drowned' (though the latter would sound too personal for a newspaper article, unless it was a quote).

Analysing the given form of the statement then might be regarded as rather academic, as in the expanded forms (with have), both fear and drown are main verbs. However, comparing with 'Genghis Khan found dead', one could argue that drowned is a participial adjective rather than a past participle.

share|improve this answer

I'm no grammatician. My take on these is that they are news titles. Print space being in such short supply that barely understandable english is the norm. A sentence form of your example would be "...it's feared that the students are drowned..." The compact titles are remiss of normal written language joining words.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.