This question differs from "sunk" or "sunken"? in that the other question, in my understanding, is about the act of sinking (as in the process of changing state from being above to being below something).

In a discussion I described buildings as 'sunk into the ground', meaning that they were built like buildings above-ground but set partially below.

As the other person did interpret it as the buildings actively sinking, I was looking up merriam-webster to show them the definition. Finding that at least the infinitive of what I tried to use would be 'sunken'.

What I am curious/not sure about though is if it would be 'sunken' in every case of using the word, or if my usage works too, i.e. in the following sentence:

"What conditions would make sinking them into the ground the predominant way of building large structures?"

  • Apart from "established" collocations like sunken eyes / road / cheeks / ships / rocks / vessels I think you should avoid that form. Note that as an adjective, we usually just go for sunk costs / floor / fence, so I'd just stick with that for your sunk posts. Linguistically, simpler is usually better in the long run. – FumbleFingers Nov 21 '18 at 18:01

I was the "other person" confused by the original title, so hopefully an explanation of my thoughts helps out.

I'll start with the word "sunken". On dictionary.com (which I mainly use because it has an easy-to-remember name and is free) it's exclusively an adjective in modern use and definition 3 is the one I think is most relevant:

situated or lying on a lower level

Using this definition, a "sunken building" being one in which the bottom floor is below ground is entirely valid, regardless of how the building got there.

Using "sunk" as an adjective in the same way is grammatical, but according to the same dictionary the adjective definitions of "sunk" are much more narrow and technical. On the other hand, in my experience native speakers of English would use "sunk" as an adjective interchangeably with "sunken" so either version would be comprehensible.

In contrast, the terms "sink", "sinking", and "sank" only have relevant definitions as verbs. Those definitions exclusively have connotations of something which starts high, and then goes down, which is why I don't think they are appropriate for a structure being built underground from the start.

TL;DR Both adjective forms "sunk" and "sunken" are appropriate to describe a building which is substantially underground. The verb forms "sink", "sinking", and "sank" are not appropriate in standard English for describing a building process where a structure is constructed inside a hole.

(As an aside, in the world you're constructing using the forms of "sink" as slang or jargon for the "build something mostly underground" process you end up with sounds like a fun idea, it just doesn't align with current usage of those terms in the real world)

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