I see the word "ridden" used in the following ways:

In this case, it seems synonymous with "Being full of":

Ridden with guilt, the man killed himself

In the following passage from "The Thing on the Doorstep" by H.P. Lovecraft, it forms an adjective with a noun:

I will not change souls with that bullet-ridden lich in the madhouse!

I would like to use it as a verb in the following way:

“Not so invisible now, are you?” I laughed as bloody gashes ____ the invisible man.

Of course, words such as "covered" works just fine, but I was just curious if there is a way to use a form of "ridden" for this situation. I know the past-participle of "ride" is "ridden", but it does not seem appropriate for this situation.

  • 5
    You could use the verb riddled, which is arguably the word that should be used instead of ridden in "bullet-ridden". See blog entry. – Peter Shor Oct 29 '16 at 20:12
  • Ridden in this sense is simply a specialised use of the past participle of ride, so the verb would have to be ride. That doesn't work, though, so you're left with no other option but to choose a different verb like cover or riddle. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 29 '16 at 20:20
  • books.google.com/ngrams/… – Jim Oct 29 '16 at 20:24
  • bed-ridden is no doubt from ride. bullet-ridden is probably from riddled with bullets (or bullet holes). – Drew Oct 29 '16 at 22:53

To ride means to support or carry, and from the equestrian sense, the past participle has the meaning of being forced or required to carry and to be under the control of the rider. This has led to the combination X-ridden, which means to carry the burden of X and to be controlled by it. The OED attests to priest-ridden from 1653, meaning to be "held in subjection by priestly authority".

The transposition to riddled with X, for X equal to guilt, is much less popular in both the Ngram viewer and the straight google, but it does have some currency. From Passion and Reason: Making Sense of Our Emotions by Richard S. Lazarus and Bernice N. Lazarus:

[I]t is one thing to feel guilt for a particular moral lapse, but it is another thing to be ridden with guilt because we feel our very charactert as an individual is unworthy.

It seems unlikely that a lich (one of the undead) would carry and be controlled by bullets. More likely the lich was shot through, or as the commenters above suggest, riddled.


Ridden in guilt-ridden is as you note the past participle of ride, including in this sense; it figuratively suggest that the guilt is controlling them as a rider controls a horse and perhaps originally first used in hag-ridden which at first could mean one was literally believed to be ridden by a witch at night.

Bullet-ridden is found outside of just that one Lovecraft quote, but not a lot and as Peter suggests, it likely was a malapropism for riddled.

Riddle means covered in holes and so cannot be as well-used for gashes as bullet-holes (or even other types of stabbing).

As such your original covered seems the better choice. Otherwise, a fresher figurative use might serve ("his skin was completely tattooed with gashes", "his naked body seemed clothed in blood and gashes", "he was a mess of gashes", "his body was nothing but gashes").

  • I am a trifle sceptical of this, though it is compatible with the OED's position. The OED provides a single etymology - the past participle of ride across many senses including those which involve horses. It does not adequately explain things like guilt ridden. If ridden means "controlled by", why do we say ridden with guilt, ridden with dirt etc. Why the preposition with and not by? Used in this sense ridden means beset with, infested with etc. I don't really see how this (OED sense 3) could be implied by ride. – WS2 Oct 29 '16 at 22:50
  • I believe the riddled connection is closer - see OED riddled - adj. sense 2b. As the second element in compounds: filled with holes by the thing specified; full of or afflicted with the thing specified. Most recent example 2005 Arena May 22/4 The derision I pour upon my lactose-intolerant, allergy-riddled demi-vegetarian co-workers. Though how riddled - meaning "with many holes" got to mean "infested with/beset with" is puzzling - perhaps, as you suggest, only by malapropism. – WS2 Oct 29 '16 at 23:15

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