John was happy about being accepted as a team member.

In one sense, John is an accepted team member, so it could be an adjective.

In an other sense, John was accepted by someone, or by the team or coach. In this sense being accepted is a passive clause. But I suspect that the passive is not really established, because as a verb it still lacks attribution to an agent, and even if it did, John is the subject of the clause, the agent of the action is not.

(1) Parsing the sentence: John was happy about something.

John was happy about being accepted as a team member. S|V|SC(AJP+(pp):happy+(pp):accepted)

So in this parse, the SC is complex. The core SC (happy) is modified by the pp about being accepted, which is complex in itself because it takes a clause (copular verb + adjective) as an object, and accepted is also modified by another pp. Both of these pp are integral to the SC because they are tied to the core AJP happy; there is a chain of semantic dependency.

By core I mean any part of the sentence that is required in terms of syntax or meaning. If you remove a core part, the sentence breaks. The rest is just added, non-essential information.

So, in this parse accepted is an adjective.

(2) Parsing the sentence: John was happy about something.

In this parse the focus in on the clause being accepted where being accepted is taken by some as a passive construction, simply because it could take an agent attribution with the pp by the coach.

John was happy about being accepted by the coach as a team member.

But if this is a passive form then it should have an equivalent active form as well, but it doesn't because John is the subject of the clause being accepted. So even with this attribution of agency the participle is still an adjective, or at least it is not a passive verb.

I would have to say that accepted is an adjective, by zero-derivation, but I'm not confident in that, given what a newbie I am.

  • 1
    I don't understand what you mean by when you say the sentence has no "active form". Surely, "John was happy about the coach accepting him as a team member" would fit your criteria.
    – Tim Foster
    Oct 31, 2019 at 11:19
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    Does the sentence mean: John was happy about the ongoing state of being/feeling accepted or the (presumably) one-off event of being accepted into the team? It is similar to asking whether disappointed is an adjective or a passive verb form in the sentence: Jane dislikes being embarrassed, i.e. in the state of feeling embarassment or embarrassed by some event?
    – Shoe
    Oct 31, 2019 at 11:30
  • @TimFoster - It does but you need to use the full form, with pronouns to get to it (e.g him). Aruacaria clarified this for me in her comments and answer below. Thanks. Oct 31, 2019 at 12:05
  • @Shoe - This is a good point. It seems that both parses are valid. As John Lawler has called it - Schrödinger's participle. As you've pointed out - it may not be possible to definitively parse this as a bare sentence. Oct 31, 2019 at 12:06
  • 1
    'The window was broken' is perhaps the easiest example to see the two readings in. ',we noticed, when we arrived' / 'by the golf ball'. Oct 31, 2019 at 13:30

2 Answers 2


There are two main types of passive, long passives and short passives:

  1. Bob was arrested by the police. [long passive]
  2. Bob was arrested. [short passive]

We can see from the examples above that a long passive is just a passive where the agent is described in a by preposition phrase appended to the end of the sentence. The short passive, in contrast, does not state who the agent is. In fact the very purpose of using a short passive is usually to efface the agent from the sentence. On his basis there is no reason not to regard being accepted as a non-finite passive clause, which is in fact what it probably is!

The Original Poster feels that their sentence cannot include a passive because an active voice version of the bracketed clause in (3) is not available:

  1. John was happy about [(his) being accepted by the coach as a team member].

In fact, it is:

  1. John was happy about [the coach accepting him as a team member].

As an aside, however, it is a mistake to think that all passive sentences have an active counterpart. There are many English passives which have no active voice counterpart:

  1. It is reputed to be the oldest hotel in Edinburgh.
  2. *People repute it to be the oldest hotel in Edinburgh.

Note that in the same way that the subject of an active voice sentence is not aways an agent, the NP in the by preposition phrase isn't always an agent either:

  1. The actor is survived by his eldest son.

The eldest son in the sentence above is not an agent. They are not performing any action.

So, we have shown that it is clearly possible for the word accepted to be a verb forming part of a passive construction. However, as the Original Poster notes, there is also an adjective accepted. And as @Shoe notes in the comments under the question, there is another reading available, where John is happy about the state of acceptedness that he enjoys. We can do a test to see if an adjectival reading of 'accepted is possible here.

To do this we need simply substitute the verb BE with the verb BECOME. The verb BECOME will take adjectives as complements but not participial verbs:

  1. John was happy about becoming accepted as a team member [by the coach].

This seems to work, and so an adjectival reading is clearly also possible for the Original Poster's sentence.

  • 2
    @UbuEnglish Well, the whole point of the short passive is tp delete the entity that would appear a the subject of the active version. Obviously when you reconstruct an acive voice sentence from a short passive, you need to reinsert the subject! I hadn't finished my post when you left your comments. Have a look now. What you think? Oct 31, 2019 at 10:52
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    'You do not need to worry about being happy as a team member' shows that an adjective is possible here. But in OP's example, the 'as a team member' virtually forces the verbal interpretation on 'accepted'. // What semantic role would you ascribe to 'his eldest son' in 'His eldest son survived him'? Oct 31, 2019 at 12:35
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    @UbuEnglish I agree and have updated. Oct 31, 2019 at 13:17
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth I'm not very good on thematic roles (understatement), but might it be a theme? Oct 31, 2019 at 13:18
  • 1
    @UbuEnglish They're both good :) Oct 31, 2019 at 14:19

//John was happy about being accepted as a team member.//

ACCEPTED is a past participle verb. Here,"being accepted" is the passive voice of "accepting" Its is like, happy at being honoured (Someone is honouring), or happy at being received (Someone is receiving)

  • It's more complicated than that - please read the comment threads. Oct 31, 2019 at 13:45

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