The Great Croissant-Eating Controversy

Last week, a reader who signed his email “J.” gave us a detailed critique of what he calls the “zombie rules” of grammar—the gripes against such things as split infinitives and dangling prepositions that “fuel ... people’s misconceptions (and their nervous cluelessness) about English.” This next reader, Chris, has a rebuttal from his experience as an ESL teacher:

I find that adhering to grammar rules, however zombified they may be, is important for me in teaching university students—the reason being that once they complete their studies, they will be on the job hunt, and their English abilities will be on trial. The likelihood that a future employer might be a follower of zombie rules to English grammar is quite high, so rather than that student be judged at the most crucial time for them, I attempt to nip it in the bud early if possible.

NB: In “croissants uneaten,” uneaten can DEFINITELY still be looked at as something other than a verb with the verb left or went having been elided. For example,

The croissants were left uneaten by the partygoers.

This seems to act more as an adjective disguised as an adverb, similar to hungry in “The children went hungry for three days.”

Just my tuppence.

Which brings us back to the so-called verb that started it all: In the context of this list from our newsletter’s “Verbs” section:

Walking Dead autopsied, croissants uneaten, scare machine terrifies, diva reigns Supreme

… can “croissants” be read as a passive verb, according  to J.’s argument? Or is it, as Ruby first pointed out, actually an adjective? Another reader, John Williamson, lays out his case in great detail:

Here are some considerations:

a. If we were to say this:

Sentence 1: The uneaten croissants were finally discarded.

we would see that the verbal structure in this sentence employs a passive form: “were discarded.” “The croissants” is the subject and “The uneaten croissants” is the SP (subject phrase).

Since an SP consists of a determiner (the), any number of adjectives, and some number of nouns, gerunds, etc., but not any embedded verb forms;  and since Sentence 1 already has a well-formed verb structure (“were discarded”); then the tentative conclusion is that in Sentence 1, uneaten is an adjective and not a verb form.