A whale found dead on the southern Spanish coast was found to have swallowed 17 kg of plastic waste, including plastic bags.

I assumed it was a verb, as in a reduced passive form (a whale that was found dead), but the test said the correct answer was: "adjective"

Any ideas?

  • If adjective is the answer, "found dead", at least, should have been the highlighted portion.
    – tylerharms
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 18:19
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    It has no comparative or superlative grade, so it cannot be an adjective. Not every modifier is automatically an adjective. It really is a subordinate clause, "A whale [[that was] found dead on blah blah] did this and that". But the real question is, even if the test was right, which it is not, what is the point of it in the first place? A label is just a label. Whether I label "found dead" as an "adjective", "construction 72c", or "Susan", it won't teach me English. At best it will teach me how to be good at tests.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 18:33
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    Clearly whoever made the test thought that "adjective" means "word modifying a noun", and also believes that knowing this fact tells you everything you need to know. Both beliefs are, unfortunately, not true. So, the solution is, don't believe anything about English or grammar that emanates from whoever wrote the test, or from whoever set the test, or from the text used, or from the author of the text, or any teacher using it. Once you learn to test and trust your own syntactic intuitions properly, you'll realize how much garbage is promulgated as "English grammar" in schools of all sorts. Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 18:55
  • We're in trouble when we classify a word as 'a Susan because it is obviously a Susan in our guess at a related unreduced form'. But it's useful to classify – here 'found dead' is a reduced subordinate clause, a participial clause, functioning as an adjectival. 'Dead' actually modifies 'found' also. If I had to label 'found' (here) itself, I would argue it was too verby to be an adjective and too adjectivy to be a verb (not adopting Peter's 'dual membership' view). It's on the continuum. And such usages are very common. Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 19:35
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    Unless the test instructions tell you by what criteria you are to make the judgement (and really, even if they do...), it's essentially just a stupid test. For reasons @Cerberus touches on, if your only choice is between "adjective" and "verb" and no more precise criteria are given, you could equally shoehorn it into either category... Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 20:33

2 Answers 2


It is a past participle in that sentence. A participle is internally a verb, in that it can have some arguments that verbs commonly have; externally, you could say it is an adjective, in that it often modifies a noun. But to call it merely "an adjective" without qualification seems excessively simplified, to the point where it becomes almost useless.


It's a (passive) participle, a type of adjective derived from a verb. It's a participle syntactically, as well, because it can be rearranged like this:

Found dead, a whale on the southern Spanish coast was found to have swallowed 17 kg of plastic waste, including plastic  bags.

It is still an adjective relating to the noun, but the placement is more free. Although that might, depending on the reader, have a very slightly different semantic meaning, as it no longer absolutely must be related to the whale. Although otherwise would be confusing.

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