I'm proof-reading a thesis by one of my friends and there's some recurring construct which I always mark as false but I'd like to check with you.

In the comments I was told that the example I provided didn't really match the sentence I found in the thesis therefore I'm adding the actual sentence from the thesis. I'm sorry for the confusion; I'm not a native speaker/in the field of language and thus didn't really see the difference.

So here we go. Which of the following is preferable?

  • To illustrate the necessity of some steps a bad representative of the taken radiograms is used.
  • To illustrate the necessity of some steps a bad representative of the radiograms taken is used.

I'd use the latter because it is closer to "[...] of the radiograms taken previously is used".

Original example

In the English language, one can use the (past) participle of a verb as an adjective, this allows for example to express that I'm creating a scrapbook using the pictures that I have taken previously.

What's the correct way to state this?

  • I'm doing a scrapbook from the taken pictures.
  • I'm doing a scrapbook from the pictures taken.

I'd use the latter because it is closer to

I'm doing a scrapbook from the pictures taken previously.

  • 2
    There's not much context here, but I'd say something like this: "I'm creating a scrapbook with the pictures that I took [when I was on vacation in Cancun]". The part in square brackets can be changed to wherever and whenever the pictures were taken.
    – user21497
    Dec 29, 2012 at 12:37
  • I wrote the above example myself, the actual sentence in question goes somethin like this: To illustrate the necessity of some of these steps a worst case representative of the taken radiograms is used. I'd swap the positions of taken and radiograms (i.e. write [...] a worst case representative of the radiograms taken is used.); in the above example I've exchanged radiograms for pictures.
    – elemakil
    Dec 29, 2012 at 12:43
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    But that's a completely different sentence, with passive voice and all. Please edit the question to give the real context.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 29, 2012 at 12:45
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    This doesn't address your larger question, but I have to ask why you need "taken" at all? Surely nobody would conceive you would select a representative from among radiograms not taken? Dec 29, 2012 at 12:54
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    "To illustrate the necessity of some of these steps, a worst case representative of the radiograms is used" is sufficient, but may not be the best sentence in the larger context.
    – user21497
    Dec 29, 2012 at 12:56

2 Answers 2


Way too many markers have been deleted from the sentence.

If clarity is the intended goal, some of them, at least, need to be put back. On the other hand, if the intended goal is to match some "correctness" norm, then it doesn't matter whether it's clear.

The issue is taken, which is, as noted, a participial adjective. That identification, however, doesn't mean that it behaves like an adjective, nor that it originated as an adjective.

In fact, taken is the remains of the deceased passive relative clause which were taken, and that in turn is the remains of the active relative clause which Agent took (where Agent represents whoever took the radiograms, which may or may not be relevant, and may or may not be explained elsewhere in the paper). Passive and then Whiz-Deletion have applied, leaving only the single word taken, which has not had time to shed its verbish habits and resists moving to a prenominal adjective position.

To avoid such problems, my advice is not to delete so much. Viz.

  • In order to illustrate the necessity of some steps, we use a bad representative of the radiograms that we took.


  1. Steps are presumably steps in some process, which is described elsewhere; this would be a good place to remind the reader -- e.g, steps in the treatment process or whatever. This also separates the bare NP steps from what follows.
  2. Preposed adverbial clauses are followed by a comma. This represents the intonation contour with which they are pronounced, and signals the reader that there is a preposed adverbial clause here (even though some of its markers, like In order, have been deleted).
  3. There is no reason (besides a possible technical style sheet) to use the passive taken when the Agent can be identified as an active subject. Here I have identified it with the authors, as Principal Investigators, which may be wrong; but it should be identified if it's possibly relevant, and this is a good place to do it. Plus, it simplifies the grammar, again.

  4. Likewise, the authors are identified as the ones using the bad samples for illustration in an active main clause we use, rather than a passive is used.

I have nothing against Passive constructions, and they are useful. But they can be overused, and then the traces of their use destroyed by deletion, which provides all kinds of problems for everyone to chew on. Isn't syntax wonderful?

  • 1
    I can't really see how "The police released details of the jewellery stolen" is any different to "...jewellery taken". But in that case the more natural sequence is "...stolen jewellery", whereas "...taken jewellery" sounds totally weird. Is there some specific difference between stolen/taken as used in such a context, or is it just "one of those things"? Dec 29, 2012 at 18:04
  • Probably. It's most likely a matter of the fixed-phrase status of constructions like the stolen NP. Steal is very specific and being stolen imparts an attribute to the NP; whereas take is very general and could mean anything, so it's less likely to be seized on for an idiom. Dec 29, 2012 at 18:09
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    oic - it's the fact that steal is much more specific, so it imparts a definite attribute. Thus we're happier to use the past participle adjectivally before the noun (no implied deletion?). It seems to work with any verb where the effect of being "verbed" is relatively specific. So you can definitely serve fried food even in contexts where it might sound odd if you served food fried. Dec 29, 2012 at 19:22
  • There is a long cline between verbiness and adjectivality. Most real syntax is a matter of individual variations showing general trends. Of course, this doesn't help those who want The Rules. Dec 29, 2012 at 19:46
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    I can see why you'd have need of it! I bet I've used the word continuum half a dozen times on ELU in contexts where cline would have been a reasonable (if not better) choice. I shall await my chance to use it in earnest. Dec 29, 2012 at 20:42

It is not at all clear to me what either of the sentences about the radiograms means, so it might be easier to address your question about the placing of the past participle using your second example as a basis. A more realistic sentence might be I’m making up a scrapbook from the pictures taken at the wedding. There, taken, as the past participle of take, is a non-finite verb. It would be very unusual to speak of taken pictures. However, the past participles of some verbs can be placed before nouns, where they become adjectives. An example might be I’m making up a scrapbook from the enlarged pictures taken at the wedding.

  • A similar question (with 'presented' as the ed-form) has just been asked, Barrie, and I'm sure there have been quite a few others over the years. Would you agree that it's impossible to say just by looking whether an ed-form may/should be used before the noun? Each example (perhaps each string) needs to be checked for idiomaticity? Dec 5, 2022 at 12:59

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