In these examples:

UCLA engineering professor shot to death in apparent murder-suicide

16-year-old Chicago boy shot to death while walking to school

Gorilla shot to death when child falls into enclosure


Does it function as an adjective or adjective phrase? As a verb, can you say to shoot to death?

  • "Shot to death" means the shot immediately killed the person. "Shoot to kill" is a set phrase and verb.. It can be extended to "shoot to death", maybe.
    – NVZ
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 5:13
  • Shot is a past participle here functioning to form a passive verb with the copula is or was elided, headline style. The prepositional phrase to death modifies it adverbially. And yes, one can conjugate shoot fully with that adverbial modifier attached throughout. Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 5:15
  • That's a headline. Often in such usages common words (especially verbs and articles) are elided. Assume "is" or "was" ahead of "shot" in the above examples.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 12:00

1 Answer 1


The two examples are not a sentence and it is not meaningful to classify "shot to death" as "adjectival phrase". In newspaper headlines, it is common to omit the verb to "be" and an article because it doesn't cause confusion and the headlines need to be as concise as possible. It should be

A UCLA engineering professor was shot to death in apparent murder-suicide

The preposition to is used as

a function word to indicate the result of an action or a process

In both of your examples, "to" indicates the result of an action to "shoot".

As @BrianDonovan commented, "to death" is a prepositional phrase which is functioning as an adverb, and it modifies the action to "shoot". A good example is "He drank himself to death" which could be rephrased to "He drank continuously until it caused his death".

Active voice of the example should be:

A student shot a UCLA engineering professor to death in apparent murder-suicide.

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