Order of participial adjective

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.


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?

Source : Link , Question Author : elemakil , Answer Author : John Lawler

Leave a Comment