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Some one asked this question: He is loved. This is something that I've always kind of wondered.

In a sentence like this, is loved a verb or an adjective? Can it be considered either?

The simple answer was this: Loved is still a verb, but it's the past participle, so it plays a similar role to an adjective.

My question is why is loved here classified as a past participle and not simple past. If the sentence was: He was loved. In that sentence would loved still be a past participle or would it be simple past?

Thank you.

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It may help to straighten out some terminology. Loved is always a past participle. That's because the past participle of a regular verb adds the suffix -ed to the regular form (i.e., the form used in the infinitive), with the proviso that the suffix replaces a final e. This means that past participles are always verb forms.

Past participles have a role in the predicate of indicating tense and voice:

  • With the auxiliary have for the present perfect tense ("I have always loved you.")
  • With the auxiliary had for the past perfect tense ("I had loved you before I hated you.")
  • With the auxiliary forms of be for the passive voice. ("You are loved by me.")

Past participles have roles outside the predicate. They can modify nouns. Consider Evelyn Waugh's novel The Loved One.

They can head noun phrases. We don't use loved this way, relying on the now-defective verb belove, which appears only in the passive: "My beloved is like a gazelle...."

And they can appear in absolutes, associated with main clauses: "Loved by all, the general bowed to the cheering crowd."

With these uses comes a syntactic ambiguity. When the past participle (e.g, loved) follows the third person singular, present tense of to be (i.e, is), are we to interpret is as 1) an auxiliary forming the passive voice or 2) a copular verb followed by a nominative predicate? To rephrase, does

He is loved

mean that he is 1) an object of love or 2) a recipient of loving? That's a matter of semantics. We can only tell for sure if an agent is identified in a prepositional phrase with by:

He is loved only by his mother.

That's case 1), the passive voice, because we can transpose to active voice:

Only his mother loves him.

  • In a sentence such as "I loved her" the verb form loved is no past participle. It is the second base form, which is used only for past tense. Regular verbs have the base forms love/loved/loved, an irregular verb is write/wrote/written. You can't say that wrote is a past participle. – rogermue Mar 3 '16 at 10:29
  • @rogermue I can say it. I just can't be correct when I do. Corrected. Thanks. (I blame the drugs.) – deadrat Mar 3 '16 at 18:53
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Great question! It can be considered both. Your example "He is loved", could be considered a passive sentence with he being the object, and the past simple verb "love" being a verb. As you noted, it is the past participle of the verb.

As you also noted, it plays the same role as an adjective.

So, yes, it could also be regarded as an active sentence with he being the subject, is, being the present simple verb, and loved being an adjective.

To answer your question, loved can not be classified as simple past in this example because it is not the only verb in the sentence. The verb be comes immediately before it. Verb be can only be followed by a few things (adjectives or participles).

If loved in your example were simple past, it would typically be followed by an object as that particular verb is mainly transitive.

Example: He loved badminton

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For many verbs past tense and past participle forms are the same.

Past participle can be and often used in adjectival sense also.

Love-loved-loved

After a long time they got to see their loved ones.

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