Why can't "asleep" be classified as a verb? English verbs include first of all the general implicit meaning (the lexico-grammatical nature) of the verb which serves to convey verbiality, i. e. different kinds of activity (go, read, skate), various processes (boil, grow, obtain), the inner state of a person (feel, bother, worry), possession (have, possess), etc. The meaning of word asleep is also connected with action and process. Why can’t it be classified as a verb?

  • 3
    Give us an example sentence where you feel it's being used as a verb.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 4, 2016 at 20:14
  • 1
    Asleep describes a state. Verbs denote activity.
    – phoog
    Apr 4, 2016 at 23:00
  • +1 Very good question for a site for linguists and serious language enthusiasts. Apr 6, 2016 at 23:23

2 Answers 2


In English, verbs are words that take certain endings and can appear in certain constructions.

Verbs like sleep, go, own, or be have special forms:

  • sleep, sleeps, slept, sleeping
  • go, goes, went, gone, going
  • own, owns, owned, owning
  • be, am, is, are, was, were, been, being

that don't occur for other predicates

  • *She asleeps, *She aslept, *She has aslept, *She was asleeping.

Asleep is an adjective that's formed from the verb sleep. Adjectives can be predicates (they're called predicate adjectives in that case), but adjectives can't take the endings that verbs can, so they have to use an auxiliary verb be that can be inflected. The same is true of predicate noun phrases like a doctor or solid rock

  • That man is asleep/tired/tiring/dead/here/purple.
  • That building is a clinic/solid rock/a monstrosity.

So that's why asleep can't be a verb; it's already an adjective, and it can't work like a verb.

  • When he found her, oh then they fell a-kissing. As I was awalking, I saw a baby who was asleeping.
    – phoog
    Apr 4, 2016 at 23:01
  • More seriously, I would argue that asleep was formed from the noun sleep, like ashore, astern, and atop.
    – phoog
    Apr 4, 2016 at 23:07
  • 2
    For some creators, probly it was. For others, not. It doesn't get created once in a puff of smoke; it's a very gradual process, over hundreds of years, millions of people, and trillions of individual oral uses of asleep to get to our present state of affairs. Which is changing at a glacial rate even as we discuss this. Apr 5, 2016 at 11:58
  • +1 . Just to be devil's advocate for the sake of talking about grammar a bit more (which is why I come here), there is the case of She was asleeping and so forth .... Apr 6, 2016 at 23:26
  • 2
    That's the regional a- participle prefix Froggy would a-courting go, He's a-feared of snakes, etc. A-prefixing is known in Appalachian speech groups, and there's a big literature about it in sociolinguistics. Apr 7, 2016 at 2:28

'Asleep' is equivalent to the participle 'sleeping'. Neither one is a verb. They are adjectives. They do refer to an action, but 'asleep' (or 'at sleep') does it in an irregular way.

  • 5
    "Sleeping" is clearly a verb in "The baby is sleeping peacefully"; it's a gerund-participle verb-form and head of the non-finite clause "sleeping peacefully". It can't be an adjective because you can't say *"very sleeping peacefully"
    – BillJ
    Apr 4, 2016 at 20:25
  • @BillJ - But one could properly say "The baby is asleep peacefully".
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 4, 2016 at 21:01
  • 2
    @Hot Licks Yes, but "asleep" is an adjective that can take post-head modifiers in the form of a adverbs. But "sleeping" can't be an adjective because it can't occur as complement to complex-intransitive verbs like *"She became/seemed sleeping", and as I mentioned before, it can't be modified by "very". Some participles, though, can also be adjectives, like "entertaining" for example, which can be complement to both complex-intransitive verbs: "It became quite entertaining", and complex-transitive verbs: "I found it quite entertaining"
    – BillJ
    Apr 4, 2016 at 21:27
  • @BillJ - Many words can be used as different and diverse parts of speech. In many cases the nit-picking about what the construct "is someword" actually is is only a tap-dance around the fact that English grammar is quite imprecise and subject to interpretation.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 4, 2016 at 21:31
  • 3
    @AmI The baby is sleeping peacefully is simply a progressive construction, comprising the usual verb "be" + present participle. It is no different to Ed is walking briskly and Kim was writing a novel. "Walking", "writing" and "sleeping" are clearly present participle verb-forms. There is no possibility of them being anything else.
    – BillJ
    Apr 5, 2016 at 8:13

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.