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We usually use only a verb’s past participle when we need to make an adjective out of it, not its past tense—but not always. Sometimes we even use both forms but assign these two different meanings!

For example, even though using broke as the past participle for the verb break is now considered obsolete, we still use that old form today for the verb’s corresponding predicate adjective in sentences like

  1. Now I’m broke.

Using that obsolete form there in (1) means something quite different from what it mean here:

  1. Now I’m broken.

Since both are adjectives, why do we sometimes use an obsolete form for one sense but another form for another possible sense? Why don’t we always use the same more-standard form for both senses?


This leaves break with two different inflections available for potential use as adjectives, either the past or the past participle, since historically broke once alternated with broken as that verb’s past participle but no longer does so. Do other verbs ever work like break works in this respect? I’m especially looking for now-obsolete past participles still used today as adjectives that are spelled just like the verb’s present or past forms instead of how its past participle is spelled in perfect constructions with have.

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  • 1
    There’s also If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
    – Xanne
    Dec 5 '21 at 0:18
  • The past tense of interleave is interleaved, but that's not what you're looking for here.
    – smci
    Dec 5 '21 at 8:13
  • 1
    MODERATOR NOTE: I have drastically refactored this question so that it can be an interesting and answerable question under our format, meaning one that’s no longer just a boring and off-topic list question.
    – tchrist
    Dec 5 '21 at 18:48
  • @tchrist. you're welcome
    – sen
    Dec 6 '21 at 11:10
  • @tchrist by editing the question so much, none of the answers are applicable at all. They're answering what I assume was "what are other examples of this phenomenon" instead of "why does this happen?" Dec 6 '21 at 15:13
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Other examples with differences in adjective usage/meaning/collocation for past particples:

(1) For work we have worked and wrought ("chiefly archaic"—OED)

wrought (adj.)

Worked into shape by artistry or effort
carefully wrought essays

Elaborately embellished : ORNAMENTED

Processed for use : MANUFACTURED
wrought silk

Beaten into shape by tools : HAMMERED —used of metals
[wrought iron]

Deeply stirred : EXCITED —often used with up
gets easily wrought up over nothing m-w

Wrought derives from Middle English worken, the past participle of our very familiar verb work, following similar verb patterns still in use today (caught, bought, taught). Nowadays, however, we simply use the standard –ed suffix for work: m-w

worked (adj.)

That has been subjected to some process of development, treatment, or manufacture

a newly worked field

The watch is equipped with a new 22-karat rose gold open-worked oscillating weight. m-w

Prepared so as to demonstrate the steps required.

Place each error opposite its supposed number, as in the worked example. Wiktionary

Similarly, from overwork we have overworked and overwrought.

overwrought (adj.)

Exhausted by overwork; worked to excess. Also in extended use: over-excited; nervous; distraught.

Excessively elaborate; over-laboured. Also (occasionally) figurative. OED

overworked (adj.)

That has been overworked; that has been worked too hard or to excess. Also in extended use. OED


(2) We have cleft, cloven and cleaved for the verb cleave (with the meaning of separate/divide), all in use:

A cleft palate, a cloven hoof, and cleaved proteins.

In addition, we might give honorable mention to:

clove (adj.)

= cloven adj. and n., formerly frequent, still occasionally in verse; rarely as adjective. OED


(3) shrunk and shrunken for to shrink

A shrunken head (or a shrunken appearance) and preshrunk clothes

(The OED notes that the attributive use of shrunk is "now somewhat rare.")

shrunken (adj.)

Reduced in size : made less or smaller m-w

A netbook is a laptop with a shrunken screen, an undersize keyboard and a processor that's so slow, you'd have laughed at it in 2007.

preshrink, preshrank, preshrunk (v.)

To shrink (a fabric) before making into a garment so that it will not shrink much when washed m-w

preshrunk (adj.)

Of a fabric or garment: having undergone a shrinking process during manufacture to prevent further shrinking after washing or cleaning.

The youth shirts are blue-gray preshrunk 100% cotton. OED


(4) Both past participles of strike (struck and stricken) are also adjectives; however, only struck is used to refer to a labor strike:

stricken (adj.)

Struck with a blow.

Into fiery splinters leapt the lance, And out of stricken helmets sprang the fire

Of a person, community: Afflicted with disease or sickness; overwhelmed with trouble or sorrow, and the like. Of the face: Marked with or exhibiting great trouble.

H. James—Roderick's stricken state had driven him..higher and further than he knew. OED

struck (adj.)

Subjected to a blow or stroke. OED

Closed by or subjected to a labor strike

a struck factory
a struck employer m-w


(5) For beat we have both beat and beaten:

I was beat and slept most of the next day. The store was definitely off the beaten path.

beat (adj.)

Being in a state of exhaustion : EXHAUSTED

Sapped of resolution or morale m-w

beaten (adj.)

Hammered into a desired shape beaten gold

Much trodden and worn smooth also : FAMILIAR a beaten path

Being in a state of exhaustion : EXHAUSTED m-w


(6) For melt we have the past participles melted and molten ("chiefly archaic"—OED).

I dipped the cookies in melted chocolate. Then I made a molten chocolate cake.

molten (adj.)

Fused or liquefied by heat : MELTED
molten lava

Having warmth or brilliance : GLOWING
the molten sunlight of warm skies m-w

(We wouldn't say the melted sunlight, unless a photo was left on a radiator.)

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  • I usually use drink/drank/drunk/drunken as my standard four-way example where there is a fourth form in common use as an adjective.
    – tchrist
    Dec 5 '21 at 4:51
  • @tchrist You motivated me: I was able to squeak inclove :-)
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 5 '21 at 16:12
  • You can find all kinds of them here, but bear in mind that that list is far from complete. For example, it doesn't mention foughten or boughten or writhen, which have their own histories as participle forms used as adjectives. Pay especial attention to the paragraph beginning with In some cases, there are two or more possibilities for a given form.
    – tchrist
    Dec 5 '21 at 17:30
  • Yes, I did check that page. For me the interest lies in cases where we distingush(ed) the different forms when used as adjectives.
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 5 '21 at 17:39
  • The shift in meaning is definitely the interesting bit here. To that end, I’ve heavily edited the original to change it from being a boring and off-topic list question to being something interesting and answerable according under our Q&A model. I realize that this just obsolesced all existing answers and places a burden on their authors to refactor their answers maybe leaving the old bits as examples supporting the thesis or disproving it. But the original was off-topic for good reason, and this was the only way I could think of to try to rescue it.
    – tchrist
    Dec 5 '21 at 18:46
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1) 'drunk' vs 'drunken'

drunk is the past participle of drink.

However we also have drunken (adj), which was once a past participle of drink, before the 17th century. Since then it has been mostly used as an adjective, and its function as a verb is now deemed archaic.

2) 'set' vs 'setted'

set is the usual past participle of set. (Exams are set, jelly is set, someone's mind is set, etc.)

But one (or possibly two) dubious ways exist to 'achieve' the alternative past participle setted:

  1. past tense of the business jargon level-set ((verb) "to make sure that people [on the same team] all have the same information about the work") / "get together to figure it out" CNN, 2014

  2. Wiktionary makes the (extremely dubious) claim that "setted is a simple past tense and past participle of set". Example meaning: to divide students into different ability groups.

    • Merriam-Webster and Cambridge say no. I couldn't find any reputable source saying yes.
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    For what it's worth, a Google Books search suggests that the most common meaning of "setted" is "grouped (or divided) into sets," and, in particular, "(of students) put into classes according to their level of ability." Dec 5 '21 at 9:49
  • Your "level-setted" is a form of the verb "level-set", which doesn't bear on the past participle of the verb" set". And the usage of "setted" you mention is from a verb "set" which is a different verb. That doesn't make a single verb with two past participles any more than cleave/cleaved and cleave/cloven do.
    – Rosie F
    Dec 5 '21 at 9:50
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hung is the simple past tense and past participle of hang for all uses except when referring to the method of execution; for that, both forms are hanged.

(Both words are also adjectives, but those uses are more complex, and this is a family show…)

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    A hung jury won't lead to a hanged man.
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 5 '21 at 13:55
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smote is the simple past of smite, and smitten is the past participle. But according to M-W

There has been a great deal of overlap between these roles in the past 800 years or so, and again, both the past tense and the past participles have a good amount of variation (smat, smet, smit, smot, and smyt, are some of these variants, although, oddly enough, smut appears to not be one.

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sank, sunk and sunken, drowned and drownt

Drount/drownt was an old past participle. Shakespeare uses it in All's Well, that Ends Well

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