Submitted by jayles on August 27, 2013

“The plants were withered” Adjective or passive?

Please look at the following examples:

a) The plants died.        ( an event - intransitive verb)

b) The plants were killed.   ( event -passive verb)

c) The plants were dead.  ( state - adjective)

d) The plants were withered  (state? - adjective?) 

e) The plants were withered by the sirocco. (event? - passive)

f) The plants shrank. (event - intransitive verb)

g) The plants were shrunk by the dry wind (event - passive)

h) The plants were shrunken. (state - adjective)

and finally:

i) “I was bored” - is this a passive or an adjective, an event or a state?

Is it ambiguous, context-dependent or a case of “unmarked-grammar”?

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@jayles
d) adjective -plants often eventually wither of their accord; they don't need an agent. You are describing the state of the plant
e) passive - the sirocco is the agent - OK, that's an event
h) agreed - shrunken can only be an adjective
- but you could perhaps do the same as with your other example - the plants had been shrunk by the lack of water (I'm not sure about the biology, though)

i) I was bored - by itself an adjective (a state - I'm in a bored state) - the play was boring; I was bored
I was bored with his incessant chatter - adjective

But - 'But I am bored by this jostling unreasonable world' - HG Wells - passive, and as we could put it into the active - 'This jostling unreasonable world bored me', it's presumably an event (these aren't really terms I use in this context)

'they are bored by the thought of saving up for their children' - DH Lawrence - again we could change it into an active (for me the test) - 'The thought of saving up for their children bores them'

And another lovely one from HG Wells - 'They are bored by his face, bored by his automobile, bored by his knighthood, bored by his country house and his snob of a wife'

(I'm not really erudite, I just looked up 'bored by' in Google Books)

But the difference between past participle adjectives and passives is an interesting question, and I've seen examples where anti-passive teachers in college English departments have (wrongly) marked sentences like 'I was interested in your idea' as passive, when it is no such thing.

I've written about these sort of misunderstandings on my blog - http://random-idea-english.blogspot.com/2011/11...

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@WW Thanks. The tricky thing in English is the way so many intransitive verbs have a slight change in meaning to causative when used the passive - thus "withered" really means "made to wither" in the passive; but in 'a withered arm' seems more of a middle voice to me.
Actually the reason I brought this up was in Korea most students were/are taught that the "passive is more formal" and then use it regardless of meaning eg "What was happened?". In Korean passive and causative are often morphologically the same so confusion is not surprising. Hungarian is similar with an English passive often equating to a causative or reflexive plus middle voice. The next hurdle is in which context one can use a past participle as an adjectve.
In the end grammar can only take us so far and the rest is learning the English idiom.

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"'The plants were withered' Adjective or passive?"

Let me be the devil's advocate: does it actually matter here? Does it change the meaning?

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@JJM - It doesn't matter for native speakers in the course of normal conversation or writing. But it might matter to jayles and I as EFL teachers if one of our students asked us to explain. It would also seem to help jayles understand why his Korean students are making certain errors.

And it might also matter to those native-speaker students, especially in the States, whose work is marked down for including the passive, simply because their teacher can't tell the difference between a passive and an adjective.

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Yes, very much an EFL issue, where one may need to explain why "on an assisted passage" is okay, but "on a helped passage" is not; or why one cannot say " a disappeared species" (but perhaps "a vanished species"), "resulted in decreased production" (but not "decined production"). Sometimes it seems to hinge upon whether there is an underlying passive idea, whether one understands "a withered plant" as "a plant that has withered" or "a plant that has been withered". Othertimes it seems just idiomatic such as "the data provided" (but not "the provided data").

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Will, was that a deliberate error to keep us on our toes?

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@Skeeter Lewis - I think it was a case of partially changing what I'd written and then changing again and not checking it properly, so oops, red face - 'it might matter to jayles and me'

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"@JJM - It doesn't matter for native speakers in the course of normal conversation or writing. But it might matter to jayles and I as EFL teachers if one of our students asked us to explain. It would also seem to help jayles understand why his Korean students are making certain errors.

And it might also matter to those native-speaker students, especially in the States, whose work is marked down for including the passive, simply because their teacher can't tell the difference between a passive and an adjective."

The list of examples are almost emblematic of a major fault in language training: the use of short context-free phrases to "prove" grammatical principles. The statement "The plants were withered" by itself, with no indication whether (for example) someone has just stumbled over a pot of dead vegetation or too much sun caused the withering makes the grammar wholly ambiguous. In other words: easier to say than to explain.

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@JJM I do agree that short examples with no context can be very misleading.
This all began when a student asked me when they could use the past participle (or third form) as an adjective, and "withered" came up as an example from the text we were using; so the other examples were made up with verbs where different forms/usages are marked.
To someone using English as a second language it may not be obvious why "a happened situation" is wrong whereas "a withered arm" is okay, when the grammar seems at first glance to be the same.

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I have another example:
"She stared at the work piled up on the desk."
There are three ways of understanding this:
A) ...the work that had piled up on the desk.
B) ...the work that was piled up on the desk.
C) ...the work that had been piled up on the desk.
The most natural one to me is B - with 'piled up' being read as an adjective.
The quirky thing is that both A and C also seem valid; with 'piled up' in A morphing into intransitive, and in C clearly passive.

There doesn't seem to be any 'rule' here.

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Both A and B practically mean the same thing. C reads odd to me though.

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@jayles - I would say all three are valid sentences, but not all necessarily valid extrapolations from your original sentence.

I agree with you that B is an adjective and not a passive. And you're right that A is intransitive, because pile up is a so-called ergative verb such as, for example, cooking verbs or verbs like 'break'. These can be used in three ways: transitively, intransitively with the object of the transitive verb becoming the subject of the intransitive verb, and in the passive -

She was boiling some eggs for supper.
The eggs were boiling nicely
The eggs had been boiled for exactly four minutes

We can do the same with 'pile up', especially in its literal sense:

The wind had piled up the leaves in the corner of the yard
The leaves had piled up in the corner of the yard
The leaves had been piled up in the corner of the yard by the wind.

http://random-idea-english.blogspot.com/2011/08...


In your sense of pile up, however, we are probably less likely to use it transitively (and you didn't in fact give an active transitive example), as we tend to think it's something that has happened outside our control - either of its own accord, as suggested in A, or by forces unknown, as in B. Unless of course we know that someone else has piled it up, which is where C comes in.

And although I agree with Jasper that they're practically the same thing, I find A stronger, as it suggests that the work has a will of its own, whereas the adjective version (B) is more neutral.

But to get a bit pernickety, I don't think we can extrapolate Sentence A from your original sentence - "She stared at the work piled up on the desk.". For me, this involves a reduced relative clause, which could be read two ways - "She stared at the work (that/which was) piled up on the desk" - linking verb 'be' + adjective 'piled up' (B), or "She stared at the work (that/which had been) piled up on the desk" where 'had been piled up' is a passive (C).

To make reduced relative clauses from active verbs, on the other hand, we only use a present participle - "She looked at the work piling up in front of her eyes", and not usually for completed events.

So, while A is a perfectly valid sentence, I don't think you can reduce "She stared at.the work that had piled up on the desk" to "She stared at.the work piled up on the desk" without changing the meaning away from the active intransitive to a passive or adjectival construction.

If we say "He looked admiringly at the flowers that had grown in such poor soil" (active intransitive) it suggests that his admiration is directed at the flowers, which had managed it all by themselves. But if we say "He looked admiringly at the flowers grown in such poor soil", it suggests to me that his admiration is directed more at the person who grew them; for what we have here is a passive transitive construction.

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@WW Yes I am with you there.
It is tempting to overgeneralize and say that one can use the pp (or third form) of a transitive verb as an adjective; but in fact many would be rarely used in this way. For example "a thanked woman" sounds unusual to me.
The other thing is that the 'rule' (that the pp as an adjective has a passive meaning) doesn't quite hold up, as with "piled-up leaves" , although it is true that intransitive verbs rarely form an adj from the pp - "a fallen woman", "the risen Christ" are other examples.
"A disappeared species" - no ; "a vanished species" - yes
"a well thought-out plan" - yes; "an unthought consequence" - rare if at all
All seems pretty random to me.

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Ah I do get a few hits on google for "disappeared species" and "unthought consequence"

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In my opinion, the confusion surrounding the sentence 'the plants were withered,' could be avoided easily if one were to scrap the sentence altogether, or simply rephrase it to be less vague. For example: 'the plants had withered.'

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@jayles - I'm not really saying that a past participle used as an adjective has a passive meaning, as I prefer to reserve the word passive for the 'passive mood' or similar verb constructions, such as - 'We got done', 'She had her house repainted' etc. In the sentence 'We are encouraged to see how hard you've worked', I simply see 'encouraged' as an adjective. But in 'We were encouraged by his business-like attitude', yes, we have a passive.

All I'm saying is that there are two main types of reduced relative clause:
Active with a present participle - Look at that man (who is) standing on the corner.
Passive with a past participle - Those (who have been) selected to play for the team will start training today
But that something similar sometimes happens with the verb be + adjective
- Anyone (who is) interested should contact me immediately
- If you see anything (which is) interesting let me know

@Rose - you might well be right, but I think jayles was mainly trying to understand the grammar behind his example sentences, not their relative merit. He and I both teach English to foreigners, and sometimes we get asked awkward questions, so it's nice to be able to work these things out.

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Did I say 'passive mood'? Tush, tush! What I meant, of course, was 'passive voice'.

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@WW yes the standard view of "reduced relative clauses" is fine. [Santa's children?]
What I'm looking for is guidelines for when it is okay to drag the pp before the noun and use it as an adjective there. Thus:
1) "The selected players will start training today". - OK.
2) "The maximum number of standing passengers is 26'. - OK
3) "Discouraged students trail behind." OK
4) "A declined offer cannot be the subject of a counter-offer." OK
5) "Encouraged students learn better." (??)
6) "Declined numbers of students are expected next semester." (?)
7) "Withered flowers should be removed daily." OK
8) "A failed marriage" , "A crashed plane" "Grown men" - OK (tho pp is clearly not passive in meaning)

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@jayles - OK, I think I see what you're getting at:

The players who have been selected will start training today - full sentence (passive)
The players selected will start training today - reduced relative clause (passive)
The selected players will start training today - 'dragged' pp

I don't really think there's a rule on this one; you have to take each adjective case by case - does it sound natural? And that seems to me to depend on whether the adjective is normally used in this position. So let’s start with the easy ones:

8) grown men - grown is an adjective in its own right. Nobody would think - ‘Come on, grown men don’t cry!’ - Ah, that means ‘Men who have grown don’t cry.’ They are simply grown men.
8) failed marriage - failed is also listed in the dictionary as an adjective in its own right - ‘a failed writer’, ‘a failed coup’ - OALD - and there's no passive involved failed here is intransitive
7) and so is withered (as is, for example, shrivelled)

With adjectives in their own right we need make no connections with relative clauses, reduced or otherwise, and there’s no need to look for any passive root; they are simply adjectives.
.
8) crashed plane - There are plenty examples in Google, and in Google Books (although they don’t look of a very high literary standard), and quite a few at the BBC, so this seems to be OK (although I don’t like it much personally - it sounds to me as though it has been crashed, rather than simply crashing) - mind you the examples at the BBC are mostly from headlines, which have their own grammar.

1) the selected players 323 on Google, plenty at the BBC - passive pp as in the opening example
2) standing passengers is a standard term in the transport trade to describe a class of passengers - it doesn’t really mean ‘passengers who are (in the act of) standing’ - so I think this is a bit of a red herring
3) and 5) this one is interesting. Both discouraged and encouraged are used as adjectives in predicate position -’I was encouraged / discouraged at the way things turned out’, but it would seem we are much more likely to use discouraged attributively before a noun than encouraged - Google comes up with 326 results for "the discouraged workers", but only 46 for "the encouraged workers", Google Books 100 to 7, so although technically possible, encouraged doesn't seem to be very natural in that position. The BBC has 16 results for discouraged workers where discouraged is an adjective (and none as a verb), but none for encouraged.

You could also compare heartened and depressed - ‘The depressed young man’ OK, but ‘The heartened young man’?

4) and 6) - you can decline an offer and you can decline a Latin noun, but you can’t decline a number; a number simply declines. So this can’t be a passive, but neither is declined thought of as an adjective in its own right - so 6) to me is impossible. ‘a declined offer’ gets 175 hits on Google, 22 at Google Books, but nothing at the BBC (and nor do ‘the declined offer’ or ‘a declined invitation’)

So if there are any rules they might be these:
1) Some past participles have become adjectives in their own right, both from transitive and intransitive verbs, and passive doesn’t really come into it:
a broken marriage - intransitive - the marriage breaks down
a broken heart - transitive? - someone else has broken it
but in any case, which it is doesn’t matter; broken here is simply an adjective.

2) Some other pps can be used as adjectives, usually with a similar meaning to a passive relative clause - ‘a declined offer’, but only from transitive verbs
3) Some adjectives (including those derived from pps) are more often used in attributive position (before the noun), whereas others are more often used in predicative position after a linking verb such as be or feel - ‘I’m (feeling) very encouraged with your progress’

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@WW yes you've got the issue
Apart from a few verb pairs like rise/raise, fall/fell, the intransitive/transitive is not marked in English (whereas in Hungarian there are many such verb pairs) - and the meaning tends to slide toward a causative. So if the pp is used as an adjective the meaning usually comes from the transitive, as in "a raised bench", "a felled tree" vs "a fallen tree".
My guidelines are pretty much the same as yours:
1) You can usually use the pp as an adjective before the noun but some must come after - there is a list of common exeptions in "Advanced Grammar in Use" (Hewins) I think.
2) In this context beware of intransitive-only verbs!

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@jayles - Unit 82 - I would say sometimes rather than usually:

A bit man, a hit dog, a loved woman, a told joke, a made mistake, a sent letter, some done homework? We can probably rule out one syllable verbs for a start.

I would imagine it's more common with verbs involving some sort of physical action - a dredged river, a parked car

Then there's context as well - a cooked breakfast, a boiled egg, but a cooked egg sounds a bit weird to me.

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@WW yes it works better with longer/latinate words.
It is interesting to google the example phrases - "a bitten man" , "a hit dog", "a hit single", "a told joke", "a sent letter" all came up.

www.glcon2013.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/paper_18.pdf

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By "a hit single" I meant "a loved woman"
"a cooked egg" also comes up

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@jayles - they come up, but only just - these are real figures, not Google's first page joke ones:

'a told joke' - 59 - maybe 20 at Google Books, nearly all with 'told' in inverted commas
'a sent letter' - 149 - about 38 at GB, again, some with 'sent' in inverted commas
'a bitten man' - 67 - perhaps 44 at GB
But 'a hard-bitten man' - 122, perhaps 50 at GB

None of these appear in the British National Corpus.

'a hit dog' - 226, but 177 of those are for the saying 'a hit dog will holler'

I grant that cooked egg is OK; it was a silly example. But it tends to be used in contexts like well-cooked, and in books its use is almost entirely in American-published books - I think they sometimes use the expression instead of boiled eggs.
'Cooked eggs' doesn't appear in the BNC either

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=a+...

And for your homework, I'd like you to write a short precis of Batiukova and Pustejovsky's paper, in plain, non-technical English, remembering to structure your text with an introduction, main findings and a conclusion. :) (looks interesting - I've printed it out and will have a look at it over the weekend)

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@jayles - it seems that all this stuff about qualia and GL is from theories that Pustejovsky himself has put forward. This might help a bit, but only a bit - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generative_lexicon

It strikes me we might have been more successful if we had looked for examples with 'the', as these constructions are no doubt more often used in a second utterance - 'Three men were injured in the accident. The * injured men* were later all released from hospital'

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@jayles - I got interested in "(the) injured men" vs "(the) hurt men". Semantically they can be much the same, but the latter seems to me unnatural, and I don't think that paper explains this. I first tried a site search of the BBC. The expression "men hurt" by far outnumbers "men injured" (758:158), although this was almost entirely when the words were used as verbs; "the men injured" only got 4 and "the men hurt" got 0.

Attributive use rather bore out my hunch:

the injured men 91 injured men 210
the hurt men 0 hurt men 2

At Google Books, the story was pretty similar, with at least twenty pages of verifiable results for the 'injured men', but less than two pages for 'the hurt men', many of the latter being from rather old books, something which this graph seems to bear out:

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=th...

But things got really interesting when I started checking dictionaries. None of the standard British dictionaries I checked (OALD, Macmillan, Longman, Cambridge) showed the adjective 'hurt' being used attributively - and for some strange reason Oxford Online doesn't seem to show 'hurt' as an adjective at all.

But two internet dictionaries do show 'hurt' being used before a noun:

"The hurt child was taken to the hospital." - Dictionary.com (from Random House)
"ambulances...for the hurt men and women" - The Free Dictionary (from Wordnet)

So I wondered if it was an American thing, and googled "for the hurt men and women". This brings up 80 hits. But the interesting thing is that these are nearly all from dictionary or vocabulary site definitions of 'hurt'. There were only six actual examples of the phrase being used 'in the real world', one of which was gobbledygook:

"the actual firefighters ought to not simply run upward routes associated with steps and also have around the hurt men and women around the steps"

One was about emotional hurt:

"But the hurt men and women experience post-breakup may be different because men and women often view relationships from varied ..."

Which leaves us with four: one was from a legal website, where hurt probably refers to physical injury, but might possibly be about legal injury:

"these Stryker hip lawsuits will get the hurt men and women the payment they deserve"

So we have only three that are indisputably about physical injury, one of which is from another legal website:

"involves the insurance provider saying yes to cover the automobile repair price as well as the hospital bills from the hurt men and women."

One seems to be from an internet horror novel:

"The boot scuffs of all the hurt men and women that were piled into the backseat on gasoline runs into local towns."

And another from the script of a computer game:

"Mauka spent all her time massaging the hurt men and women"

Not sure about the literary merit of those last two! Meanwhile we have at least seventy dictionaries and vocabulary sites around the world saying that "ambulances...for the hurt men and women" is a good example of 'hurt' being used as an adjective, yet it all seems to go back to one entry at Wordnet, which was then picked up by The Free Dictionary - http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=hurt

Now, as we know from that paper, if it had been 'badly-hurt', things might have been different. "The badly-hurt man" gets 40 hits on Google, most of them real examples, such as "The badly hurt man was flown by helicopter to Albany Medical Center Hospital", and that sounds perfectly normal to me.

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@WW more examples to ponder (from IELTS task 1)
"....along with plummeted output of fertilizer..."
"....along with decreased output of fertilizer...."
"...along with dropped output of fertilizer...."
"....along with fallen output of fertilizer...."
"...along with reduced outptut of fertilizer...."
The tricky one is increase/decrease which flips between intransitive and causative transitive.
Seems to be more of an issue for SNAILs* than euro-language speakers.
SNAIL = S-peaker of N-ot A-n I-ndo-european L-anguage

Whilst acknowledging Hewins' list, my take is that all the pp of all transitive verbs is at least potentially a before-the-noun adjective, given meaningful context.

"The provided information" does come up on google, although I would would write "the information provided".

Dragging a "transitive" pp forward does not automatically create gobbledegook, whereas dragging an "intransitive" pp mostly seems to break syntax, unless it is already well-established, or ends in "-n", or has an alternative (but unmarked) transitive causative meaning which fits the context.

Local immigration here demands IELTS 7.5 (min 7.0) for all professionals like teachers, doctors and so on ; or CPE. Unfortunately the band 7 writing descriptors include the criteria "uses less common lexical items with some awareness of style and collocation" and "produces frequent error-free sentences"; so this is quite a hurdle for SNAILs. But like in CPE, background reading is sine qua non, and writing scores tend to be below reading scores.

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@jayles - off to bed now so will get back to you later, but of your first group, at first glance I'd say:

plummeted - definitely no
decreased - yes
dropped - definitely no
fallen - probably no (although there's a bit on the web)
reduced - yes.

Reasons? fallen is accepted adjective for trees etc, but probably not in this context. Plummet and drop (in this context) intransitive only, and have never seen their pps used as adjectives (in this context, although you can have a dropped assignment, I think) - at least that'd be my guess. Declined wouldn't work either. Declining, plummeting and falling would work though.

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=pl...

The picture is much the same if you substitute production, sales or profits for output.

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i) "I was bored." What if that is the answer to the question:"What happened when you dropped the power drill?"

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Bored is acting as an adjective here. This is because nothing was trying to bore him, but that what he was doing was boring, i.e. monotonous, dull, dreary.

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@Jasper - in jayles's example maybe, but not in David L's. The important word here is 'happen'. The question wasn't 'How did you feel when you were drilling?', but 'What happened when you dropped the drill?'. David L is talking about an action, not a state.

Being bored is a state, and doesn't 'happen', I would suggest. Actions 'happen' - he was bored by the drill is the most obvious way to read David L's little joke, I would say.

And even in your example you could turn that into a passive - what he was doing bored him, in other words he was bored by what he was doing.

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It's quite interesting how we balk at "a made mistake", but not at "an easily-made mistake".
Which reminds me of finding a studente with an English grammar book entitled "Made Simple English" - I told her to throw that one away ( "English Made Simple" would have been fine).

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@Warsaw Will

I disagree. Bored can act as adjective and thus can act predicatively in a static relationship with a copula.

In the case of the question originally posed in David L's post, I do not see bored as an acceptable response to dropping something. The question "what happened when you dropped the power drill" is ill-formed because if you're bored with something, you set it down; you don't drop it. If I did that, I might receive a reprimanding from my brother

And arguably you could say, "I was bored, so I dropped the power drill". There is not enough evidence to irrefutably suggest that "what he was doing bored him" to the point of dropping the drill.

You could get bored regardless of the activity. For example, I have been reading the Silmarillion, almost finished, and if start thinking about something more exciting, then what I am doing now is not as appealing. It is not that the book is boring me, but that I desire to something else that is more stimulating.

But I will say that my original response is little ignorant, especially this sentence: "...nothing was trying to..." I may be wrong, but I think that was my thought process when I originally posted.

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*In the first paragraph, static should stative.

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@Jasper - of course bored is normally an adjective, but it could also be the passive of bore - but I think you're missing the point of David L's joke - that you use a drill to bore a hole. He's playing on the fact that bore has two meanings. You say nothing was trying to bore him - but it was, and it apparently succeeded - the drill bored (a hole in) him.

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Whoops, didn't realize it was pun; I was thinking of it as dull and what not. That went over my head pretty well.

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@Jasper - it happens to us all from time to time.

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@jayles - Not so strange really, because 'a made mistake' adds nothing to 'mistake' - make is what you do with mistakes. On the other hand 'an easily-made mistake' adds information.

Compare 'a told story' and 'a well-told story', 'a cooked dish' and 'a badly cooked dish', 'a driven car' and 'a carelessly driven car', 'a written letter' and a 'hastily written letter'. Ad infinitum (and no doubt nauseam).

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'Cooked' was perhaps a bad example - 'a cooked omelette' and 'badly cooked omelette' would have been better.

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"Bore" is listed in longmans and wiktionary as transitive/intransitive in its literal meaning, but only transitive in its metaphorical sense.
Thus "I am boring" (as a verb) means making a hole; but "I am boring " (as in tedious) is marked with "boring" as an adjective. [I guess because one cannot say "I bore" metaphorically without an object].
No issue with "bored" as the third form of the verb ususally picks up the transitive meaning of the verb, which here can be either.
Multo in parvo.

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When adding -able to a verb, the meaning seems to include a passive element: fixable -> able to be fixed; doable -> able to be done, and so forth.
There are two exceptions : "variable" and "changeable", where the sense is either active OR passive -> the weather is variable = the weather varies vs the outcome is variable, depending on the input -> the outcome may be varied; changeable -> able to change / able to be changed.

Can anyone come up with any other verbs that have an "active" meaning when -able is added?

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The only one I can think of is 'breakable' - where the active (ergative) meaning - it can easily break - is just as likely as the passive one - can easily be broken. But I can't find any other ergative verbs apart from 'chang' and 'vary' where the same is true.

I was thinking of flammable, but that's from a noun (although that originally came from a Latin verb).

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