Consider these sentences

  1. The table is clean.
  2. The table is cleaned.
  3. The table is painted.

As I understand, there are two types of sentences here. From the first example, we have a subject the table, the verb to be, and an adverb clean. In the second example, we again have the subject the table, the verb to be and the verb to clean as passive construction. So my question is: for the third example, should the grammar be parsed following the first example (i.e. an assignment of the state painted to the object the table) or the second example (i.e. a passive construction)?

A second (slightly more philosophical) question I have on this matter, does the grammatical interpretation in this case actually change the meaning of the sentence? Is this perhaps just a pseudo-ambiguity as a result of trying to classify everything?


1 Answer 1


This is actually a very simple question.

1) /The table is clean./ means /The table is not dirty/. Clean and dirty are adjectives. Painted and unpainted are also adjectives. Read on.

By substitution, we can use any adjective to describe the table: The clean ~ dirty ~ painted ~ unpainted table is the one over there.

Here we see adjectives are either "stand-alone" adjectives or participial adjectives, -ing or -ed.

Note: the simple past one can be irregular: the *stolen book. Painted and unpainted here are used as adjectives taken from the verb paint.

2) /The table is painted/ could conceivably be a passive verb EXCEPT for the fact that one would not normally use a simple present passive here. Consider:

A) /The table is painted [by the man every week]/. The man in question would have to be rather neurotic to be painting the same table every week!

That said, one can easily imagine: B)/The house is swept every day/ [by someone].

By the same token, /The table is cleaned [by some person]/ follows the same pattern: A passive voice in the simple present tense.

Summary: In many cases, only the context or speaker intention will tell you whether in a sentence like /The house is swept/ or, as in your example, /The table is painted/, the is + verb is being used as an adjective or as a verb. On its face, there is no way to determine which case applies: a verb or state or condition (adjective).

Yes, the grammar does change the meaning: /The table is cleaned/ with an implied agent (cleaned by someone) simply does not mean the same thing as /The table is clean./ A table could be cleaned by someone and its condition or state might still be dubious whereas in /The table is clean./ there is no doubt of its state.

The ambiguity created by a simple passive verb versus an adjective stemming from a participial adjective, one simply cannot say without further context which meaning is intended./The hut is swept/, adjective or verb?

BOTH, unless further elucidated: The hut is swept every day by the kids. The hut is swept and needn't be swept again. A swept hut is a clean hut. Yes, it is a cleaned hut.

huh? :)

  • I see what you are saying. In particular, with the sentence "the table is painted", the two interpretations become clearer when "everyday" is added to the sentence. E.g. "the table is painted everyday".
    – mallwright
    Apr 21, 2017 at 1:43

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