This is a follow-up to this earlier question. I want to say that I met a person and they were drunk at the time. Which should I use:

  1. I saw intoxicated John.

  2. I saw the intoxicated John.

  3. I saw John intoxicated.

I know I could say I saw John, who was intoxicated, but I want to say it with one clause. How does it work for present participles?

  1. I found sleeping John.

  2. I found the sleeping John.

  3. I found John sleeping.

Any rule of thumb for that?

  • 1
    Participial adjectives are “always” premodifiers to the noun phrase, whereas participial phrases are always postmodifiers to the noun phrase. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the past passive participle or the present active participle: the same rule applies. As for using definite articles in front of people’s names, that’s something else altogether.
    – tchrist
    Jul 8, 2014 at 22:23
  • 2
    @tchrist Don't you think it is off-topic and fits better at ELL? Or have the standards of on/off topic been changed ?
    – Centaurus
    Jul 8, 2014 at 22:26
  • You seem to be asking about which structures are grammatical. This is only part of the problem/opportunity, though. Only (3) 'I saw John intoxicated' of your first set of examples would normally be considered acceptable, but it carries a different emphasis from the equally acceptable 'I saw John, who was intoxicated'. Jul 8, 2014 at 22:34
  • 1
    'I saw John, who was intoxicated' would be used to string together two loosely connected statements in an unmarked way. 'I saw John. He was intoxicated' is almost identical in emphasis (or lack of it), though stressing 'was' say in either version introduces emphasis (to correct someone who thinks John never gets drunk, for instance). 'I saw John intoxicated' already contains the connotation of censure. It is connecting the two elements (seeing John and him being drunk) into a fused single statement. Jul 9, 2014 at 8:03
  • 1
    I'll just address the latter two possibilities. 'I found a man sleeping (...)' is more natural in most circumstances, and emphasises your finding and the fact that he was sleeping, equally; 'I found a sleeping man' draws more attention to the man's state than your finding. Jul 9, 2014 at 9:00

1 Answer 1


I saw John intoxicated [/drunk as a lord] [/happy once].


I found John sleeping [like a log].

are 'object-orientated depictive constructions' ( Asada ). As these necessarily involve complex predicates, the adjectives (participial or otherwise) must follow the noun they modify (here, the object).

Attributive adjectives can of course be used, but don't often sit well with proper nouns (or pronouns):

*/?I found tipsy John.

*I found tipsy him.

I found a / the tipsy man.

Where both constructions are available, there can be a difference in meaning:

We found the dead horse. [that the kids had told us about]

We found the horse dead. [its owner should have phoned us (Supervets) sooner]

(obvious whiz- or to be-deletion in the second case; perhaps inferrable in the first: see J Lawler ; end of post )

  • Thus, the rule of thumb here would be: participles should follow nouns/pronouns/names; adjectives should precede them, and - when in doubt - break the sentence into 2 clauses. Right?
    – jules
    Jul 9, 2014 at 10:58
  • I'd call all the above adjectives rather than true participles. "object-orientated depictive constructions' ... necessarily involve complex predicates, {so} the adjectives (participial or otherwise) must follow the noun they modify. One needs to check on the type of construction. 'We found the horse dead': object-orientated depictive construction (S-V-O-Adj). 'We found the dead horse': S-V-O. Jul 9, 2014 at 11:06
  • I guess in the 2nd horse example the meaning of "find" is "to learn about" not "to come across", so maybe the example is not that relevant in this case?
    – jules
    Jul 9, 2014 at 11:17
  • No; 'found the horse dead' is analogous to 'found John sleeping'. Both came across and discovered the state of. 'We found John dishonest' is a different sense. Jul 9, 2014 at 21:15

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