Overwhelmed vs Be overwhelmed


Senior Member
Marathi, Hindi

I am confused about the following sentence:

  • They were overwhelmed with work.
Is overwhelmed used as a verb(passive) or an adjective?

If it's a passive voice, then who is the agent and patient?

Below sentence is also like above

  • They were overwhelmed with joy.

Please help me out!

Sometimes I get confused identifying passive and past participle adjective. Any basic rule to identify passive and past participle adjective?


  • PaulQ

    English - England
    In forming the passive the usual preposition is by but it is not always so, with also works

    He was hit by a hammer
    He was hit with a hammer

    Both passives = a hammer hit him.

    In your passive examples =
    They were overwhelmed with work.
    They were overwhelmed with joy.

    both, in the active form, would be = Work/Joy overwhelmed them

    One tip is to substitute by for the preposition in the sentence and see if it sounds OK.


    Senior Member
    I'm a bit confused here, overwhelmed, at least according to my computer dictionary works with both with-I was overwhelmed with guilt. and by-They were overwhelmed by farewell messages., and sometimes it can be used with no preposition at all-Yes, I'm overwhelmed, I'm so tired, I'm scared, and I'm furious with myself., so how can I tell the difference and is there any At first I really though it was an adjective, but now I'm really lost. Anything that would help me? Thank you for your contributions.


    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Does it matter what it's called, Mike? In a sense, if you think about it (and I hadn't until now), many (if not most) passive verbs function, essentially, as adjectives in that they describe their subjects.


    Senior Member
    Well, it doesn't, indeed. So long as it is fully comprehensible, grammatically correct and, hopefully idiomatic, in case of us non-natives, the label is insignificant. However, there is a bunch of people who have this nasty tendency to ask funny questions—teachers, students, language test designers... and it always feels good to have an ace up one's sleeve so to speak :D
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