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[I'm not much of an expert in English usage, just an armchair boffin, so I hope I'm not out of line asking what may be a dumb question, to the regulars here...]

I am trying to figure out the form of the verb entered in a passage such as:

"Did John make the cut?"

"Yes, he is entered in the race as the eighth man."

Obviously, John was entered into the race in the past but it isn't past participle ("he has been entered"; "he was entered") and it certainly isn't past tense ("he entered"). In fact, in this usage, it is essentially an adjective.

Is this a form that I am not familiar with or is it just bad English (albeit in somewhat common use)?

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  • There is a description of verbs-as-adjectives here. Is my example perhaps an instance of this? It seems possible, but a bit of a stretch. Is an entered Johhny grammatically equivalent to a written apology? And can one say, "the apology is written," with a straight face? Nov 22, 2010 at 12:14
  • I've come across some other forms that might be similar, or the same (or neither): "Yes, he is embarrassed about being in the race," and, "Yes, he is acquainted with the race-rules." Again, I'm really not sure. Nov 22, 2010 at 12:22
  • Contrary to what you say in your question, "entered" is indeed the past participle of "enter". Participles are verbal adjectives, with multiple uses. One use of the past participle is to form perfect tenses in conjunction with the helping verb "have/has" (as you point out in the question.) However, participles can be as adjectives (often in conjunction with "to be"), as PyroTyger points out.
    – res
    Nov 22, 2010 at 14:35

3 Answers 3

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This is a great question, thankfully with a deceptively straightforward answer!

This is an example of a stative passive construction. Stative passives describe a state rather than the result of an action (eventive passive.) Confusion arises because, in English, no distinction is made between the two types of passive construction. Other languages, such as Japanese, make this distinction clear.

There is a good article at Wikipedia (adjusted; references removed) which contains

Passive: Stative and adjectival uses

A type of clause that is similar or identical in form to the passive clauses described above has the past participle used to denote not an action, but a state being the result of an action. For example, the sentence The window was broken may have two different meanings and might be ambiguous:

  • The window was broken, i.e. Someone or something broke the window. (action, event)
  • The window was broken, i.e. The window was not intact. (resultant state)

The first sentence is an example of the canonical English passive [see original article]. However the second case is distinct; such sentences are not passive voice, because the participle is being used adjectivally. Such constructs are sometimes called false passives or stative passives (rarely called statal, static, or resultative passives), since they represent either a state or a result. By contrast the canonical passives, representing an action or event, may then be called dynamic or eventive passives.

The ambiguity in such sentences arises because the verb be is used in English both as the passive auxiliary and as the ordinary copular verb for linking to predicate adjectives. When get is used to form the passive, there is no ambiguity: The window got broken cannot have a stative meaning.

If a distinct adjective exists for the purpose of expressing the state, then the past participle is less likely to be used for that purpose; this is the case with the verb open and the adjective open, so the sentence

  • The door was opened (but not The package was unopened) more likely refers to the action than to the state since one can simply say

  • The door was open

in the stative case.

Past participles of transitive verbs can also be used as adjectives (as in a broken doll), and the participles used in the above-mentioned "stative" constructions are often considered to be adjectival (in predicative use). Such constructions may then also be called adjectival passives (although they are not normally considered true passives). For example:

  • She was relieved to find her car.

Here, relieved is an ordinary adjective, though it derives from the past participle of relieve. In other sentences that same participle may be used to form the true (dynamic) passive:

  • He was relieved of duty.

When the verb being put into the passive voice is a stative verb anyway, the distinctions between uses of the past participle become less clear, since the canonical passive already has a stative meaning.

  • (For example: People know his identity → His identity is known.)

However it is sometimes possible to impart a dynamic meaning using get as the auxiliary, as in get known with the meaning "become known".

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  • That's spot on, thank you! I must say, I'm amazed at how difficult it is to explain this concept without knowing the precise term. Nov 22, 2010 at 18:22
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It may be simpler than that. I believe "Entered in the race" is an old-fashioned adjectival phrase, with "entered" an ordinary past participle.

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  • Hmm, that certainly is an interesting angle, but does it still apply if the response, comes back, "Are you sure he is entered?" I suppose "in the race" is implied in this case. Also, the original form (prior to my question) was "is entered in the database." This anything but old-fashioned, though I suppose it easy enough to generalise. Overall, this seems a strong candidate, but @PyroTyger's answer still hits the nail on the head. Can they both be right? Nov 23, 2010 at 8:24
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There is no dumb question. :)

This is the passive form of the verb to enter. The sentence can be understood as such:

"Yes, he is entered in the race as the eighth man [by the officials]."

Whereas the perpetrator of the action is implied in the passive form (here the officials). With the passive form, the subject of the sentence is not the one doing the action, when comparing with the active form. The active form of the sentence would be:

"Yes, The officials enter him in the race as the eighth man."

EDIT:

It seems I was a bit of base with my answer, as ShreevatsaR pointed. To know which kind of passive is used in this case, see the answer of PyroTyger.

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  • Thank you for the kind response, @Eldros. But I don't think the meaning you are suggesting is the same as what I have in my head, which is something like, "Yes, he is [listed as having been] entered in the race...". To add the suffix "by the officials" while retaining this meaning would require an additional change: "Yes, he was entered in the race ... by the officials," or, alternatively, the removal of the bracketed phrase, "listed as having been." Thus, your second form would have to be expressed as, "Yes, the officials entered him in the race..." Nov 22, 2010 at 12:03
  • I still think it is some kind of passive form. Let's see what others have to say about it.
    – Eldroß
    Nov 22, 2010 at 12:04
  • @Marcelos I am having trouble parsing the meaning in your head. Unless you are trying to speak to 'He [qualified] for the race', the bracketed part is similar to an unspoken noun of direct address due to the passive construction of the sentence.
    – mfg
    Nov 22, 2010 at 13:24
  • Sorry, -1. Sure it's some kind of passive form, but in context, the sentence is not the passive voice of "the officials enter him in the race", but something equivalent to "the officials have entered him in the race". (See the other answers.) Nov 23, 2010 at 8:31
  • @ShreevatsaR, you are indeed right, I must say, I also learn something with this question. :)
    – Eldroß
    Nov 23, 2010 at 9:28

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