Why can’t words like interested and other similar past participles, which are adjectives, be placed before their noun?

I was taught an adjective can be placed before noun to describe it. When asked, my teacher does not seem to give me a clear explanation why I cannot put an adjective like interested before noun.

4 Answers 4


You can put interested before a noun (e.g., The interested reader can find more detail below.) In general, in English, you can put past participles before nouns (e.g., the completed picture).

  • 1
    +1 because I agree "in general". But I'm not sure all past participles can be casually used as adjectives. I can't easily see a valid adjectival usage for "dreamt" or "knelt", for example. And I'm pretty sure it's impossible with "been", or "had". Perhaps someone will post an answer succinctly defining the types of verbs you can't use in this way. Jan 27, 2012 at 3:51
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: You can't do that with knelt because it's intransitive. You can do that with your others. The phrasing is a little odd because it's an uncommon usage, but it's not ungrammatical. See [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_are_known_knowns]. I would also submit: My night consisted of undreamt fantasies and dreamt nightmares. A had fiasco is better than a missed opportunity. It's tough with been for the same reason it's hard to construct a sentence with been in an adjective-like construction.... <noun> was been ? The copula just doesn't lend itself to that. Jan 27, 2012 at 4:50
  • Fixed link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_are_known_knowns Jan 27, 2012 at 4:56
  • My argument is that Moby-Dick and Absalom, Absalom! are actually the same book, in a way, each a rewrite of the essential Shakespearean tragedy of a wild, half dreamt delusion of ultimate power over an avenging universe... Jan 27, 2012 at 14:35
  • I don't think it makes sense to say the participles are used as adjectives. When adjectives come before nouns, they're used as modifiers in noun phrases. It's the same for participles. It's not the the participles are used as adjectives that are used as modifiers in NPs. The intermediary step isn't needed. Jan 27, 2012 at 14:44

Perhaps you could give an example that your instructor has criticized, because several counterexamples occur to me. "The lawyers failed to send notices to all interested persons." "Some of the children were not interested, and those bored children might have ruined the class for the rest."


My teacher just showed me the definition of the word in the dictionary (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English). Indeed, there are many other past participle adjectives e.g., riveted, intriqued, spellbound etc, that, according to the dictionary, cannot or are not supposed to be placed before noun. – Kwanbhan

I think your teacher is either misreading or misapplying Longman. The dictionary itself pre-positions adjectival participles in its examples, e.g.,

car‧bon‧at‧ed . . . carbonated drinks contain small bubbles [↪ fizzy]: carbonated spring water


in‧terest‧ed [sic] . . . 3 interested party/group a person or group that is directly or personally concerned with a situation and is likely to be affected by its results [≠ disinterested]: All interested parties are invited to attend the meeting.


But see

riv‧et . . . 1 be riveted on/to/by something if your attention is riveted on something, you are so interested or so frightened that you keep looking at it: All eyes were riveted on her in horror.


It could be that the contraposition of examples like the first two against the has suggested to the teacher that a participle cannot be pre-positioned unless an example is provided, but any first-year philosophy student can see the inductive fallacy there.

It may, as commenter @FumbleFingers suggests, that some words like "knelt" do not admit of this usage, but I am hard-pressed to imagine, much less to find, a rule that sorts one category from the other. The same commenter suggests "dreamt" can't be used this way, but this teacher's dreamt-up proscription belies in existence what it denies in substance. "Had" and "been" are also suggested, but I don't see why a person couldn't think of a raucous party and remember the good times had, the drinks drunk, and the debaucheries unspoken. If those participles can be post-positioned, then why not pre-positioned _in the appropriate instance of their use?

In sum, I tend to think it's more a matter of taste and style to be evaluated in each individual usage, rather than a matter of grammar or syntax.

  • My teacher just showed me the definition of the word in the dictionary (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English). Indeed, there are many other past participle adjectives e.g., riveted, intriqued, spellbound etc, that, according to the dictionary, cannot or are not supposed to be placed before noun.
    – Kwanbhan
    Jan 27, 2012 at 3:29
  • @Kwanbhan: On what basis do you say those past participles you listed cannot be used as adjectives? I agree it would be a bit contrived with intrigued, perhaps - but "The spellbound audience listened intently", or "This jacket has reinforced riveted seams", for example, are fine. I don't understand what it is you're asking here. Jan 27, 2012 at 3:42
  • I am not saying those participles can not be used as adjectives. I am confused why those words such as riveted, intriqued, mentioned in the dictionary, can not be placed before nouns. Anyhow, I have seen interested used before a noun as mentioned by Phil N.
    – Kwanbhan
    Feb 1, 2012 at 20:52

If I remember correctly, and it is possible I don't, it is frowned upon to use verb forms as adjectives before nouns because of confusion with helping verbs. In FumbleFingers' example “this jacket has reinforced riveted seams”, the verb have (or has in this case) modifies the verb reinforce (reinforced) thereby changing the sentence's meaning. Because of this modification, the example could be interpreted as meaning that the jacket itself reinforced the riveted seams. Hence the general rule. However it should be noted that this could be avoided by using proper punctuation, such as a comma separating the two descriptives.

  • 'Reinforced' is an adjective and has been used as such since 1612. It is true that it is also the past tense and past participle of the verb 'reinforce' but context will usually make it clear which it is. It's perfectly clear in FF's example. I agree that a comma between 'reinforced' and 'riveted' would help, because it is to be supposed that the seams are both reinforced and riveted. Jan 27, 2012 at 8:52

The adjectives alone-asleep-ashamed-awake-afloat-afraid-alight-alike-alive (there may be others) are not placed before nouns but appear as the complement of the verb to be (The boat was afloat.) or adjectival object (After a while, he fell asleep.) of other verbs.

You cannot say: "The afloat boat sailed away." or "The asleep dog woke."

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