Saturday, October 26, 2013

Some random thoughts about hurt people and dictionaries

We can often use participles (usually ending in -ed or -ing) as adjectives. A present participle (-ing form) usually has an active meaning and a past participle (3rd form) usually has a passive meaning:
  • The winning team was cheered loudly by its supporters.
    = the team which won - active meaning
  • The players of the defeated team looked exhausted.
    = the team that was defeated - passive meaning
In this post, I'm interested in one particular pair of adjectives made from past participles (PPs): injured and hurt.

Introductory comments

As we've seen, we usually use -ing forms for active. There are a few verbs, however, which can be used transitively and intransitively, where it's not really clear whether the meaning is active or passive, and probably doesn't matter too much:
  • A broken marriage - nobody really broke it - intransitive
  • A broken heart - perhaps somebody else was responsible - transitive?
There are also a few adjectives derived from the PPs of intransitive verbs, which are now adjectives in their own right, and listed as such in dictionaries, but their use is often restricted to certain contexts:
  • grown - Come on, you're a grown man. You can do your own washing.
    But NOT a grown vegetable (although home-grown vegetables is OK)
  • fallen - She swept all the fallen leaves into a corner
    But NOT a fallen cup
We can't use all past participles like this. In Practical English Usage, Michael Swan writes:
It is not possible to give clear rules for this - it is a complicated area of English grammar which has not yet been completely analysed.


When used as adjectives, some participles can go before or after the noun:
  • Could give me a list of the selected candidates / candidates selected
  • Rub some ointment into the affected area / area affected
  • They made a list of the stolen goods / goods stolen
And some nearly always go after:
  • Please use the towels provided
  • They made a list of the things taken
  • The damage caused was considerable

Injured and hurt

It seems to me that injured can equally well be used before and after
  • The ambulances took away the injured people.
  • The ambulances took away the people injured in the accident.
The use of hurt after the noun sounds fine to me:
  • The ambulances took away the people hurt in the accident.
But I'm not so sure about using hurt before the noun:
  • The ambulances took away the hurt people. (???)

Injured and hurt as adjectives - in dictionaries

I've been having a discussion about the use of PPs as attributive adjectives with another teacher, on the language forum Pain in the English, and I started thinking about this pair of phrases - '(the) injured men' and '(the) hurt men'. We often use the adjective injured attributively, that is to say, before a noun. Here are some dictionary examples.
  • an injured leg
    Carter is playing in place of the injured O'Reilly. - Oxford Advanced Learner's
  • The injured man was taken to hospital. - Macmillan
  • an injured bird
    Chelsea have three injured players. - Longman
  • She was told to stay in bed to rest her injured back - Cambridge
For me, 'I've hurt my leg' is a rather less formal way of saying 'I've injured my leg', although it aso implies something rather less serious, perhaps. But although 'the injured man' is quite a normal expression, as we've seem from the dictionary examples, 'the hurt man' doesn't sound quite so natural to me. So I went back to the dictionaries.
It should be mentioned here that both injured and hurt have a second meaning, to do with feelings: in this meaning, if you're hurt, you're upset or unhappy. In the following examples the first of each pair refers to being injured or in pain, the second to the emotional sense:
  • None of the passengers were badly hurt.
    Martha's hurt pride showed in her eyes. - Oxford Advanced Learner's
  • A child could get hurt, climbing that thing.
    Andy was terribly hurt by his first marriage. - Macmillan
  • Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.
    his hurt pride - Longman
  • Let me help you up. Are you hurt?
    "That was very unkind," he said in a hurt voice. - Cambridge
It will be noted that we have a couple of examples of attributive use, but only when hurt refers to feelings. None of these dictionaries give examples of hurt in its physical sense attributively, before a noun. They only give examples in predicative position after the linking verbs be and get (and these could also be read as being passives)

On the web

Using the website Just the Word, which is good for finding collocations and which is based on the British National Corpus (BNC), a computerised collection of British texts, I found that the most common Adjective + Noun collocations for injured were as follows (the numbers are for the number of occurrences in the BNC):
  • injured man 43
  • injured person 17
  • injured player 17
  • injured animal 15
  • injured leg 15
  • injured ankle 13
  • injured patient 14
There were also 41 for injured party, but this has a very specific legal sense, so we'll ignore it. For the same adjective + noun combination for hurt, there was only one - hurt pride, so not in the sense I'm interested in. Another collocation-finding website, Netspeak, based on web use, also had worker and employee, so I added them to my list, as well as a couple of plurals. Netspeak found no adjective + noun combination for hurt.
Rather than do a web search, which could involve huge numbers, I did a site search of the BBC. This is both a news site and a general interest site, and is aimed at a general readership, neither highbrow, like quality newspapers, nor lowbrow, like the tabloids. The figures all refer to the actual number of references, not to the apparently fictional numbers that appear at the top of Google searches. (see note below)
The expression "men hurt" by far outnumbers "men injured" (758:158), but this was almost entirely when the words were used as verbs, especially in headlines, for example: "Two men hurt in car crash". But when injured and hurt were being used as adjectives after the noun, the picture was rather different: "the men injured" only got 4 and "the men hurt" got 0.
The use of injured and hurt as adjectives in attributive position rather bore out my original hunch:

Site search at the BBC

the injured man517the hurt man4
the injured men91the hurt men0
the injured person66the hurt person1
the injured people69the hurt people0
the injured player93the hurt player0
the injured animal24the hurt animal0
the injured leg11the hurt leg0
the injured ankle9the hurt ankle1
the injured patient5the hurt patient0
the injured worker9the hurt worker0
the injured employee1the hurt employee0

Two cases of the tail wagging the dog?

So both a look at four online British dictionaries and at the BBC website suggest that the use of hurt as an adjective in attributive position is pretty rare. But two internet dictionaries do show hurt being used before a noun:
  • "The hurt child was taken to the hospital." (based on The Random House Dictionary)
  • "ambulances...for the hurt men and women"
    The Free Dictionary (based on Wordnet)
I wondered if this was perhaps an American thing, and so I did a bit of googling.'s The hurt child

First I tried "the hurt child was taken to the hospital". This got 20 hits, but 19 of them simply repeated the dictionary definition and one was from a forum discussing the use of hurt as an adjective. So no examples of this sentence being used 'in the wild'. Meanwhile "the injured child was taken to the hospital" got 24 hits, all genuine examples and mostly from news outlets.
I then repeated the process without the before hospital, as in British English, we'd usually say 'the child was taken to hospital'. This brought up 2 for hurt and 35 for injured. One of the two for hurt appears to be from a Chinese forum discussing the use of hurt as an adjective.
So from the whole web we have one real-life example of "the hurt child was taken to (the) hospital", yet it turns up in at least one dictionary as a model example!
I then tried with "the hurt child". This got 339 hits first time and 530 showing 'duplicates'. Although there were a few with the meaning of injured, most of them seem to be to do with children who are emotionally damaged, in phrases such as "parenting the hurt child" or "adopting the hurt child" (which together add up to more than the total, for some reason). Other examples related to a poem by Margaret Atwood - The Hurt Child. Meanwhile "The injured child" got 317 hits.

Actual Google counts (with discrepancy)

  • "the hurt child" 530
  • "parenting the hurt child" 305
  • "adopting the hurt child" 306
  • Margaret Attwood "the hurt child" 42

The Free Dictionary's The hurt men and women

I then googled "the hurt men and women". This brought up 80 hits ("the injured man and women" got 215). But as in the first example with hurt, these are nearly all from dictionary or vocabulary site definitions of hurt simply repeating the same example sentence. There were only six actual examples of the phrase being used 'in the real world', one of which appears to be have written using Google Translate, as it's gobbledeygook:
"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 from the LA Times, but 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 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"


The use of hurt (to mean injured) before a noun does indeed seem to be very rare, rather confirming what I originally suspected.
On the other hand, 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 back to one entry at Wordnet, picked up by the influential web dictionary - The Free Dictionary.
Meanwhile, we have another influential web dictionary,, giving "the hurt child was taken to the hospital" as an example sentence, when it seems that this use occurs pretty rarely in real life, with most examples of it simply repeating the dictionary example.

A note about Google results

The actual number of links listed by Google appear to bear no relationship to the number that appears at the top of the first page when do a search. For example, when I google "the hurt men and women" it says "About 93,400 results" and at the bottom shows Pages 1-10. But when I click on Page 10, it reduces to nine pages, and 93,400 has been reduced to 82. A bit of a difference!
All the figures I have used for Google, including site searches at the BBC, therefore, reflect those final figures, in other words verifiable linked entries, not the counts given on the opening pages. I've written a bit more about this here.


Hurt as an adjective in dictionaries

Collocations and other links

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