Adjectives are placed before nouns. But sometimes I've seen (though I'm not sure if they are correct), things like:

The item placed there

I know that it may be a short way of saying "The item which is placed there".

  1. Is the past participle "placed" considered as an adjective in that sentence?
  2. Can any past participle used in this way by ommiting the relative pronoun+subject of the relative clause?
  3. Is there any exception for the rule that adjectives must be placed before noun?

2 Answers 2




This particular example is called a participial phrase. The whole phrase placed there is an adjective modifying the noun item. Placed is the participle, and there is the adverb modifying the participle. This example isn't actually a complete sentence, unless of course it were the answer to a question. Out of context, it doesn't have much meaning.


Which item did you touch?

The item placed there.


The item placed there is very fragile. Do not touch it.


I'm hesitant to generalize, but I believe any past participle can be used to start a participial phrase. Note that it's not necessary to assume there is an omitted pronoun/subject, that's just the way participles work.


Participle adjectives can go after the noun. Be aware that the placement may change the meaning.

I wrote to the person concerned. (I wrote to the person we're talking about.)

I wrote to the concerned person. (I wrote to the person who is worried.)

There are a handful of adjectives that can go before or after the noun, like stolen or remaining.

The stolen paintings were worth six million dollars.

The paintings stolen were worth six million dollars.

Also when describing size or age adjectives are placed after the noun.

He is six feet tall.

In general, however, adjectives in English go before the noun. Sometimes adjectives may follow the noun at the start of a more descriptive clause, but then they are usually separated with a comma.

The grass, wet with dew, tickled my toes.

  1. Participles are syntactically adjectives, though they have some unique properties, as discussed below.

  2. Pretty much any participle can be used this way:

Here's the clock broken by John.

Find the programs running on the server.

This could be considered a type of elision in which the words that is are omitted, but I'm not convinced that it's actually necessary to posit an elided relative clause here.

  1. As a rule of thumb, English likes to place "short" things before the noun (articles, possessives, single-word adjectives) and "long" things after the noun (prepositional phrases, adjectives with complements). To illustrate this, the two example sentences above can be reworded with the participle before the noun if we eliminate the complement clause:

Here's the broken clock.

Find the running programs.

Note this isn't a hard-and-fast rule, but rather a tendency with some exceptions.

  • 1
    I agree that it's unnecessary to assume elision.
    – ghoppe
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 19:51

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