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I'm having a disagreement with my boss (a non-native speaker) who says that in this sentence the word "rigged" is a be-verb. I say it's the past participle acting as an adjective and I confirmed it with two other native speakers who have writing/editing experience (one even majored in linguistics and has two MAs in teaching to other languages). But my boss insists that it cannot be an adjective and can only be a verb and it shares the preposition "by" with "driven" but the agent is unknown.

I argue that if it were to share the preposition "by" then the agent is "greed" and yet "greed" can't "rig" something. However, I am struggling to find appropriate sources to prove either case. Here is the sentence in question:

"Cynics will tell you that everyone is selfish and weak, that the system is rigged and driven by greed, that you can never succeed, so it's pointless and contemptible to try, that all ideals are ridiculous, and the do-gooders are only out to show off their own supposed virtues."

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    I am more interested in knowing how you interpret rigged as being a be-verb. I doubt if that makes any sense.
    – user392935
    Aug 31 '20 at 9:10
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    I can see how you can interpret it either way. What I don't see is what difference it makes. It is still saying exactly the same thing either way. It might make a difference if you are looking to change or expand the sentence. But going by your description of the situation, all you do is just look at it. In which case it does not matter which interpretation you pick, as both give you the exact same result.
    – RegDwigнt
    Aug 31 '20 at 9:47
  • books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 31 '20 at 11:55
  • @RegDwigнt we are trying to teach the word "rigged" and trying to determine the part of speech it should be listed as. It looks like there's a clear argument for verb or adjective, but not a credible source that I can use to prove either one. (They won't accept Merriam Webster Dictionary or English blogs.) Aug 31 '20 at 13:06
  • Strictly speaking "rigged" is ambiguous, though verb preferred ("rigged by someone"). Adjective status is clear with "seem" as in "the system seems rigged", which would lend weight to it being an adjective here.
    – BillJ
    Aug 31 '20 at 13:31
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I won't comment on rigged as a "be-verb" because that term means absolutely nothing to me.

However, it's the and which is causing the problem, and my intuitive response is that your boss is right. The and means that rigged is to be considered with driven. Using brackets to define components of the sentence, it's

The system is [rigged and driven] [by greed].

Here, rigged and driven are both past participles functioning as adjectives. Both are describing "the system". Because they are both exactly the same part of speech, with the same qualities, joining them together with and means that they are considered together, as a single unit — as shown by the bracketed sentence above.

If the sentence had been something like "The clock is blue and driven by a motor" then the motor would have nothing to do with blue because blue and driven are different.

To separate rigged from driven by greed, simply remove the and. You do need to introduce semi-colons, though, because it's essentially a list of what cynics tell you. Making it a list also allows commas within the list items.

Cynics will tell you that everyone is selfish and weak; that the system is rigged, driven by greed; that you can never succeed, so it's pointless and contemptible to try; that all ideals are ridiculous, and the do-gooders are only out to show off their own supposed virtues.

The last comma might be a semi-colon, but in that case you would need "...ridiculous; and that the do-gooders..." because the that is being repeated in each list item.

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  • Isn't it highly unlikely that one would conflate blue and driven? Or for that matter, rigged and driven ? This is just frivolous nitpicking.
    – user392935
    Aug 31 '20 at 9:32
  • @Stockfish Of course it's highly unlikely that one would conflate blue and driven, and I explain why that is. As for rigged and driven, it's not unlikely, and I explain why that is so. If you disagree, write an answer.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 31 '20 at 9:39
  • Thanks for the reply and explanation! So if both function as adjectives, then is the agent still "by greed" in the passive voice, because that part then doesn't make sense. I agree about the punctuation, but the rules are a bit lax regarding punctuation here and I'm tired of battling everything. Aug 31 '20 at 12:05
  • A better way of fixing the problem with the and would be the system is rigged and is driven by greed. Repeating the is means that rigged and driven won't be perceived as parallel passive verbs. Aug 31 '20 at 12:40
  • agreed, but this is taken from a video that has already been recorded and has to be used as is Aug 31 '20 at 13:03
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rigged is a part participle. Also, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rigged suggests that we may treat rigged as an adjective. This being the case, the sentence is correct from two slightly different viewpoints. It is up to you and your boss to agree which fits the circumstances.

In the first (participle usage), the system is rigged by greed and the system is driven by greed.

In the second (adjective usage), the rigged system is driven by greed (it may have been rigged by some other motive than greed).

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  • Thanks! I also found this definition in MWD. However, since they don't like it when I use synonyms from MWD, I'm not allowed to give it as a source. And I haven't been able to find another credible source with rigged as an adj. Aug 31 '20 at 12:03
  • definitions.net/definition/rigged and oxfordreference.com/… are relevant. Also perfect-english-grammar.com/participle-adjectives.html treats the question of using participles as adjectives. Excluding MWD sounds like “moving the goalposts” to me.
    – Anton
    Aug 31 '20 at 12:59
  • Thanks a lot for the effort! Unfortunately, they won't accept any of these. But I do appreciate it. Aug 31 '20 at 13:04
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    Who won't accept any of these? This sounds like "I believe X, and I won't accept any source which doesn't agree with X, no matter how authoritative." (When I was a child, oh so many years ago, MWD was considered the authority for American English.) Aug 31 '20 at 13:18
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I'm not sure what your boss means by be-verb. Perhaps he's thinking of languages like French or German, where some intransitive verbs form the compound past with a form of to be, rather than a form of to have. At any rate, I think that there are two ways to interpret the sentence. The most natural to me would be to consider "rigged" and "driven" as adjectives. But I think it would also be possible to say that the sentence is in the passive voice: someone rigs and drives the system. This is reinforced by the "by greed" clause, since in the passive voice, "by" is used to introduce the agent. Since the actual meaning is the same in both cases, however, I don't think it makes a difference. What is clear is that it isn't the system which is doing the rigging or the driving.

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  • I agree with that, however, if it's in the passive voice then does "greed" become the agent? And, if so, is it possible for "greed" to "rig" anything? This does not seem logical to me. I also agree that there are two ways to interpret this. The problem is we are teaching the word "rigged" and debating whether it should be listed as a verb or an adjective in this sentence. Aug 31 '20 at 11:35
  • I think that even in the passive, this can be read as "the system is rigged and the system is driven by greed". Because it doesn't seem to make sense that greed is rigging something, that's the reading I tend to give. So we're back to where we started: the sentence can be explained in two different ways, but it doesn't make any difference in the meaning. Aug 31 '20 at 13:12

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