Yes, I know this sounds like a ridiculous question, but I do have concrete examples to back it up:

The sentence, "The newly arrived travelers ate breakfast" sounds perfectly reasonable to me (at least as something that might be written, not necessarily something someone would actually say). It doesn't sound awkward/nonstandard/poetic/archaic or anything like that, and I believe it is grammatically valid. But, the meaning of 'arrived' is obviously active, not passive voice, even though it is past tense. As matter of fact, 'arrive' cannot be passive at all because it is intransitive.

If you were to replace 'arrived' with almost any other verb in the same form, the meaning would change to passive:

"The recently posted question has 15 views." <-- 'posted' is passive and modifies 'question'

"A frequently observed phenomenon is rain on picnic days." <-- 'observed' is passive and modifies 'phenomenon'


But, interestingly enough, you could also have "The recently returned travelers..." with the same active voice meaning as the original sentence (after all, 'arrive' and 'return' are synonyms, although 'return' is transitive).

What is it about this class of words (ones with meanings similar to 'arrive' and 'return') that lets them be used this way? I have only ever heard the term deponent used in reference to other languages, but it seems like 'arrived', 'returned' etc. fit the definition exactly: passive in form, active in meaning. Of course, the other active voice forms of 'arrive' and 'return' aren't passive in form, so the technical term would actually be semi-deponent, if you could use that terminology at all in English. As far as I know, we don't use it though. Is that just because there aren't enough of them to merit their own category? I don't know of any equivalent technical term that describes the difference between 'arrived' and (for example) 'observed.'

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    Technically this is a very quick "no", simply because English doesn't have deponent verbs as part of its grammar
    – James K
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 5:05
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    << But, interestingly enough, you could also have "The recently returned travelers..." with the same active voice meaning as the original sentence (after all, 'arrive' and 'return' are synonyms, although 'return' is transitive). >> No. This sense of 'return' is (by default, ie ignoring an unlikely reading) intransitive. With the isoformal "The recently returned books..." we see 'returned' corresponding to return's transitive sense, with an implied volitional agent and overt theme (the books). Commented May 23, 2023 at 11:10
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    See J Lawler's answer at one word for the 'act' of being born. // 'Newly come' is another example; 'recently deceased' relates to the archaic verb 'decease', again intransitive. 'Newly married' may be ('marry' being both transitive and intransitive). Commented May 23, 2023 at 11:17

3 Answers 3


It isn't usual to call it deponent. There is a related concept that is applied to English, the term "unaccusative verb". Read the linked Wikipedia article for more.

Prior questions related to this:

  • Wow, I had never heard the term "unaccusative" before (the spell-checker doesn't even recognize it) but the article you linked answers my question perfectly! Both why they can be used with an active meaning while others can't, and whether there is a technical term in English. +1 and accepted! Commented May 23, 2023 at 4:37
  • With all the middle//ergative usages I'm aware of, there is the availability of an active and a passive variant. They drank the wine / the wine was drunk / this wine drinks well. But 'arrive' is strictly intransitive. Commented May 23, 2023 at 11:03

The phrase "newly arrived" is a past participle. Participle clauses can act as modifiers, and there is a tendency for the particle form of a verb to be adapted and used as an adjective.

The sense of a past participle is often related to the passive voice; indeed, the modern passive voice is formed by using the past participle with an auxiliary verb "to be" (or its conjugates). But past participles also have other functions, one being to form the perfect.

And the "perfect" sense of the past particle is what is invoked here.

"Newly arrived travellers" are travellers that have newly arrived.

Now this is rather unusual. The more common use of a past participle is to indicate a passive: "The defeated army" is an army that was defeated.

  • I'll give you +1 for the interesting and informative answer, but not the 'accept' as it doesn't really answer why you can use 'arrive' in an active sense when other verbs would be passive in the same form. The 'standard' form of the perfect active participle is formed with the auxiliary 'having' -- examples: 'having observed', as in "The travelers, having observed the beautiful sunrise..." The perfect passive participle having been observed is more closely equivalent to 'observed' as used in the example in the question. Now, obviously it wouldn't (continued)
    – Quack E. Duck
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 17:15
  • make sense to say "The travelers, having been observed by the beautiful sunset"!
    – Quack E. Duck
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 17:16
  • And that was really the point of my original question. Not 'what is the difference between 'having observed' and 'having been observed' (or which one of the former has the same meaning as just 'observed'), but instead, why can just 'arrived' (or 'returned') mean the same as 'having arrived' (or 'returned') and not 'having been arrived' which would be nonsensical?
    – Quack E. Duck
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 17:18
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    You may get a wider range of answers if you delete this question and re-ask on English Language & Usage
    – James K
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 17:19
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    @MarcInManhattan That's interesting, I hadn't really thought of the importance of there being an adverb in my example sentence. It seems like there isn't really a definitive answer there either on why the active vs. passive meaning, although I see that's been discussed in the comments. If my question were migrated, it would definitely be a duplicate of that one, so I'll go ahead and close my meta question. Thanks for the reference!
    – Quack E. Duck
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 5:35

In order to have some kind of resolution to this question, which doesn't seem likely to ever get a definitive answer (maybe because it doesn't have one? Wow, that aged like milk! See the accepted answer) I will post the following as a Community Wiki. It isn't really an answer, mostly speculation and discussion, but does provide more background on the question and links to some interesting discussions both on Stack Exchange and elsewhere. Other contributions to this post are welcome!

TL/DR: Don't read the wall of text, just click the links :D

Others have already addressed the main points better than I could.

More Background Info:

In languages which have deponent verbs, there is also often a related concept called the 'middle voice.' The meaning of the middle voice is exactly what it sounds like: something in between active and passive. The subject performing the action could be thought of as also being the object of the action. The middle voice is another feature English isn't normally said to have (although see this discussion), but there are words in English which carry that same kind of 'reflexive' meaning. I would say that 'arrive' fits in that category, and so does 'return' when used as a synonym for 'arrive' and not transitively. These describe actions which affect the entity performing the action.

Since deponents can come from the middle voice as well as from the passive*, that might be a better explanation for the example sentences in my original question. This occurred to me while writing the question, but I didn't want to confuse the issue by adding any superfluous details. Bringing up the additional topic of the middle voice didn't seem strictly necessary to understand the question.

I also didn't want to clutter up the question with detailed analysis of specific syntactic forms, which is why I went with simply "past tense" instead of more precisely specifying the usage of 'arrived' and 'returned'. This omission generated a long discussion in the comments about whether the usage of 'past tense' there was incorrect, and even whether non-finite verb forms can be said to have the attribute of 'tense' at all, or whether it's correct to say the form is "used as an adjective" (the most mainstream answer to both questions is yes, although some alternative models of grammar disagree. I'm not criticizing the alternative models - I'm sure they exist because they must explain some things in a way that the standard textbook model can't - but adopting one of these alternatives shouldn't be necessary or relevant to understanding the question here).

Usage Clarification (see comments under the question, and also see @James K's answer):

To clear up any confusion I may have caused with oversimplification and/or poor wording choices in the original question, I will include some of the details of that discussion here. The forms 'arrived' and 'returned' in my example sentences are the past** participle (used as an adjective). This form, both in its adjective form (cf. observed) and in the corresponding perfect (as opposed to just 'past') construction (e.g. having been observed), generally conveys a passive, not an active meaning. That is what makes the usage of 'arrived' and 'returned' special here: while 'observed' just on its own conveys the same meaning as 'having been observed', 'arrived'/'returned' convey the same meaning as 'having arrived/returned'. This is true for very few other words, which seems to put these in a special class.

**Why specify past at all? That was intended to contrast ‘arrived’ / ‘observed’ with the equivalent forms in the present tense - ‘arriving’ and ‘observing.’ This is relevant because the present participle is active in meaning instead of passive - nothing makes ‘arriving’ special in comparison with ‘observing’ - the ‘deponent’ distinction wouldn’t exist with this form and the question would be meaningless. So, ‘tense’ is relevant only in as far as it is the determining factor for ‘voice’ within a given construction. I could not come up with any other forms of the words ‘arrive’ and ‘return’ (finite or otherwise) that would have an active meaning where the form would generally indicate passive.

In the ELU discussion I linked to below, some comments bring up the point that a lot of the words which can have an active perfect sense with the past participle happen to be intransitive. But, that is not the case with 'return' - 'return' can be transitive! This is why I believe the concept of middle voice might be relevant here: although 'return' is transitive, it isn't being used transitively in the example.

Why I don't consider the question to be resolved:

None of the above definitively answers WHY it's OK to use a form in English which is morphologically passive in a way that conveys an active (or even 'middle voice') meaning. There is a discussion on the ELU site which @MarcInManhattan found, which my question is a near duplicate of, but that question focuses on the requirement of having an adverb before the word 'arrived' and not on the distinction between active and passive.

My question was asking about why the 'passive form/active meaning' construction is valid for this small subset of words like 'arrive' in the first place (I'm fully confident that it is, in fact, valid), and whether there is a technical term or designation for the phenomenon, or for the category of words which it applies to.

Thanks again to @James K, @BillJ, @Lambie, and @MarcInManhattan for their contributions to this discussion!

*Unfortunately, you have to take the linked Wikipedia article with a grain of salt, as the second sentence contradicts the rest of the article. It is not true that deponent verbs "have no active forms" (emphasis added): compare sequens from sequor, sequi, secutus sum. However, this wouldn’t be on topic for the ELL site.

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