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While analyzing essays, I often get confused between whether a word is a predicate adjective of an action verb.

I found the definition of a predicate adjective to be "An adjective used in the predicate, especially with a copulative verb and attributive to the subject."

I also found the definition of an action verb to be "A verb that expresses something that a person, animal, object, or process in nature can do."

However, even with these definitions, I am confused about how to tell these apart.

For example, the sentence "A list of objects was written." In this sentence, what would the word "written" function as? Would the "was" be a linking verb and the word "written" a predicate adjective? Or would "was" be a helping verb and the "written" be an action verb?

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    A list of objects was written is a good example. It's ambiguous. It can refer either to the past event of writing the list (which is a passive, and therefore a verb), or it can mean that the list was a written list, in which case it's an adjective. Generally native speakers will choose the first -- and often not even notice the second -- because that's not a normal way to use a predicate adjective and it's easier to interpret it as a past tense passive. So you're not the only one who has trouble with this; everybody does, and one has to interpret in context. Jul 29, 2015 at 16:09
  • Perhaps you mean predicative adjective as in "The man is old".
    – rogermue
    Jul 29, 2015 at 19:21
  • @rogermue His question is about the case where a verb is being used as a predicate adjective. old isn't a verb.
    – Barmar
    Jul 29, 2015 at 22:10
  • As a native speaker, the context I imagined upon reading the example sentence actually fits the predicate adjective usage. I pictured a handwritten list of objects, just sitting on a table. For the verb form, I had to add to my imaginary scene a person (in 18th-century clothing, to affirmatively frame the past tense) actually performing the act of writing, in the past. Aug 5, 2015 at 21:39

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In a comment, John Lawler wrote:

A list of objects was written is a good example. It's ambiguous. It can refer either to the past event of writing the list (which is a passive, and therefore a verb), or it can mean that the list was a written list, in which case it's an adjective. Generally native speakers will choose the first -- and often not even notice the second -- because that's not a normal way to use a predicate adjective and it's easier to interpret it as a past tense passive. So you're not the only one who has trouble with this; everybody does, and one has to interpret in context.

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