Can I apply the adjective displaced to an object, when I mean it is being used out of its typical environment?

For instance: "the displaced ball floats around". (Assuming we're talking about a ball used in a football match played on the moon. Typical usage would be on earth, with gravity.)

  • No, you cannot. – Kris Aug 22 '13 at 6:07

The way you are trying to used displaced seems to come closest to this definition

to move from the usual or correct location

In your case, the past participle is being used as an adjective; displaced is also considered an adjective on its own by many.

However, diplaced is not usually used to mean in a setting other than the usual. It sounds like you are seeking something closer to atypical or unusual

There is a phrase, out of place that is more commonly used for something that is a bit incongruous.

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“Displace” is a verb meaning “to take over or force from its position or role”. Because the verb is transitive, it requires both a subject and an object: thing A (the subject) displaced thing B (the object). “Displaced” is not an adjective, but the past participle of the verb. Hence, when you say a thing has been displaced, it doesn't just mean “out of its typical environment”: it means “forced from its typical environment by something else”.

Some examples of “displaced” used correctly:

  • When Archimedes sat down in his bathtub, he displaced a large amount of water and caused the tub to overflow. (The subject [Archimedes] took over the position of the object [water]).
  • Digital cash registers have largely displaced mechanical ones in stores. (The subject [digital cash registers] took over the role of the object [mechanical cash registers]).
  • Several visitors have asked about the displaced park bench. I told them it was hit by a reversing bus last week. (The object [park bench] has been forcibly moved from its normal location. The past participle is being used without a subject, i.e. in the passive voice).

The sentence “the displaced ball floats around” means something forced the ball from its normal position. While this may be literally true (the ball may have been forced by humans from a sports locker into a rocket, then forced by that rocket to the moon), the intended meaning is probably something more like “out of place” or “incongruous”.

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  • Thank you for your clarification. I read that displaced could be used both as a verb and as an adjective in the Cambridge Online Dictionary. Link: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/displace – Daniel Aug 21 '13 at 11:58
  • @Daniel That's correct. In the first 2 examples above, it is a verb; in the last one it is an adjective. – TrevorD Aug 21 '13 at 23:06

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