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I've just read this sentence:

...As long as they have their own independent lives and help out only when needed, mothers-in-law can play a very useful role in any family...

My question is about "when needed". Is it correct? It shouldn't be "when is needed"?

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The adjective is necessary which in the context you provided could fit as when deemed necessary. So, needed is the past participle of the verb need forming a passive clause which in its expanded version should be "when they are needed", "they" referring to "mothers-in-law" which occurs in the main clause, i.e. "mothers-in-law...in any family".

  • Why can't needed be considered an adjective here? needed ... adjective: necessary, wanted, required, lacked, lacking, called for, desired Collins Thesaurus of the English Language. – Edwin Ashworth May 4 '15 at 22:17
  • It can be. Either way, "when needed" or "when they are needed" forms an adverbial phrase. It seems it doesn't really matter whether you parse it as adjective or passive. – Brian Hitchcock May 5 '15 at 7:44

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