Should I say "the thing is corrupted" or "the thing is corrupt"? Would they carry different meanings?

i.e "My hard drive is corrupted, so all of my information is lost" vs "My hard drive is corrupt, so all my information is lost".

I know that for a politician (for instance), one would use the present tense, i.e "The Mayor is corrupt and is ruining the city", but what about things?

  • Corrupted files are bad, but that's good English, and it's not the past tense or necessarily passive. The case is closed. This book is used. Aug 10 '17 at 5:51
  • Could you clarify the difference? Aug 10 '17 at 5:53
  • 4
    +1 This is a good question. The difference between corrupt and corrupted as adjectives is of great significance. And no, it's not about the present/past tense at all.
    – Kris
    Aug 10 '17 at 7:14
  • 1
    Michael Seltenreich: Please look up what the dictionaries have to say about these adjectives (not verbs) and let us know. Else I am afraid the question may be closed for want of background effort. Good Luck.
    – Kris
    Aug 10 '17 at 7:16
  • 2
    "Corrupt" implies agency. It's giving your hard drive "free will".
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 17 '17 at 2:38

Corrupt and corrupted have similar/overlapping meanings in general, as corrupt comes from a Latin past (passive) participle and corrupted is (or at least, is derived from) an English past (passive) participle.

"Corrupted by..." cannot be replaced with "corrupt by..."

One difference I can think of is that "corrupted by [agent/instrument]" is a common construction, but "corrupt by [agent/instrument]" is extremely questionable (although apparently it has been used by certain authors).

E.g. the two following sentences sound natural:

  • "He is corrupted by power."
  • "The file was corrupted by a virus."

But the next two don't:

  • "*He is corrupt by power."
  • "*The file was corrupt by a virus."

"Corrupt by..." certainly may be acceptable when the by-phrase doesn't designate an agent or instrument; e.g. "corrupt by nature" and "corrupt by design" sound OK.

Interestingly, "corrupt by" used to be used to mean "corrupted by"

The Oxford English Dictionary mentions that corrupt was once used in English as a participle, and gives (among others) the following example from Shakespeare:

  • 1609 Shakespeare Sonnets cxxxvii. sig. Iv Eyes corrupt by ouer-partiall lookes.

Google Books also supplies a few examples of "corrupt by power" and "was corrupt by [instrument/agent]" from some old texts:

  • Oh, man ! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
    Dehas'd by slavery, or corrupt by power,
    Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
    Degraded mass of animated dust

    Byron's "Curious Epitaph on a Dog," printed in Annual gleanings of wit and humour, by a celebrated wit of the age (1816)

  • All flesh was corrupt by its iniquities.

    Chapter III, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series, Volume X: Ambrose Select Works and Letters, edited by Philip Schaff & Rev. Henry Wallace, originally published 1896, translated by the Rev. H. De Romestin

  • Then Noah, righteous and perfect, walked with God, that is in his laws, and the earth was corrupt by sin and filled. When God saw the earth to be corrupt, and that every man was corrupt by sin upon the earth

    "Noah", The Golden Legend: Lives of the Saints, compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, 1275; first translated by William Caxton, 1483; from the Temple Classics edited by F.S. Ellis (first edition 1900); re-typeset and republished in 2015 by Catholic Way Publishing

However, none of these sound grammatical to me, a speaker of modern English.


Looking at a dictionary entry, there are several definitions for corrupt as both verb and adjective; they seem to cover the same sorts of problems.

Ordinarily, "corrupted" should be emphasizing more that this is something that happened as opposed to the present state. If we say "The leader was corrupted," we start wondering when it happened, who corrupted him, how, etc. "The leader was corrupt" simply describes how he is now.

But computer tech is different. I've never heard someone say a hard drive was "corrupt," but only "corrupted." I'd think of a part of computer memory, a storage medium, or a file as corrupted if it has some damage and corrupt if it's essentially garbage. This isn't rational, but it's what feels right to me. (My expertise is in computers.) Sometimes the newer uses of a word take a while to settle down in their usage, I think.


In Portuguese, we have "corrupto" and "corrompido", the former - adjective - describing someone (necessarily an entity, never inanimate objects) as liable to corruption, and the latter - adjective or verb - assigning a state of effective corruption to any subject, regardless of its nature.

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