Created equal or created equally?



The United States Declaration of Independence contains one of the most well known and enduring lines in English:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

and was paraphrased by Michelle Obama in her speech at the Democratic National Convention:

"All are created equal."

The Massachusetts Constitution contains

All men are born free and equal...

and The Virginia Declaration of Rights contains

... all men are by nature equally free and independent ...

While I understand the Declaration of Independence to mean

All equally have the same rights

Would it not have been more grammatically correct to use the adverb

All are created equally

I realise that

All are equally created

may have a different meaning.


Posted 2016-07-26T13:33:07.670

Reputation: 63 575

4No. In this case, "equal" is correct. The DoI isn't talking about how all men are created, but that all men are created equal. It is an equivalence: all men are equal by birth. In this use, "equal" is not an adverb. – Mark Hubbard – 2016-07-26T13:46:16.367


Related: What does the word “equally” mean in this context? I think visitors to that question might be interested in the answers here and vice-versa.

– ColleenV – 2016-07-26T16:29:01.320



Equal, the adjective, is correct here.

Created equally, with the adverb, implies that some things are more and some are less "created"—which would presumably mean (it's not idiomatic English) that they owe their origins to a greater or lesser degree to some sort of act of creation, as opposed to having arising spontaneously.

Equal is not an adverb but a "subject-oriented predicate complement", a term which describes the subject and is attributed to it as a result of the action of the verb. Compare, for instance:

Coffee was served black. Coffee was served in large mugs.

Black and in large mugs are subject-oriented predicate complements.

All men are created equal thus means that all men (and women, too!) were created as equal—the creative act caused them to be equal.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2016-07-26T13:33:07.670

Reputation: 176 469

Is it possible to see in large mugs as an obligatory adjunct?

– Kinzle B – 2016-07-26T16:00:17.607

@KinzleB Neither black nor in large mugs is obligatory, and neither is an "adjunct". – StoneyB on hiatus – 2016-07-26T16:03:02.020

That paper suggests the infelicitous use of "This house was built" and "a built house". An adjunct like "in 1990" or "recently" could be required. Perhaps it's different to OP's example. – Kinzle B – 2016-07-26T16:10:25.033

@KinzleB A very interesting article. Note that Goldberg and Ackermann are discussing *apparently* obligatory constituents; they're asking under what pragmatic circumstances some constituent is required, and why, and they specifically point out pragmatic circumstances (eg, ex (25)) under which no further constituent is required – StoneyB on hiatus – 2016-07-26T16:26:27.693

Did the serving cause the coffee to be black? Or did the serving merely act as a conduit for already-black coffee? The crew of the Enterprise was beamed down intact. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-07-27T01:06:03.330

@TRomano An apt question. Not exactly "cause", but there is certainly a degree of agency involved in the "black state" (and the mugs) in which the coffee was served. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2016-07-27T01:10:11.137

I like my coffee ex nihilo, please. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-07-27T01:14:47.817

@TRomano Alas, Nothing will come of nothing. Somebody's gotta exploit those pickers. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2016-07-27T01:18:21.310

What about "his eyes opened wide"? What's the grammatical function of the adjectival phrase 'wide' here? – Kinzle B – 2016-11-10T15:22:11.203

@KinzleB Again, it's a subject-oriented predicate complement. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2016-11-10T18:57:59.770

It's a bit strange to say "eyes are/become wide", unlike "all men are equal". CGEL calls the AdjP 'young' in 'he died young' a predicative adjunct rather than a predicative complement. Do you agree? – Kinzle B – 2016-11-11T00:49:45.273

@KinzleB Mmm ... It's borderline. We say Her eyes were wide and have the compound wide-eyed. On the other hand, we also say Her eyes were wide open, and open as a verb is a causative, "cause to be open". I was reading something recently - McCawley? - involving semantic merger across syntactic categories; I'll see if I can find it. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2016-11-11T11:07:03.117


The attribute inheres in the created not in the act of creating.

You can take are created as a quasi-copula complemented by a predicate adjective that applies to that which is created.

We don't say born freely do we? Created equal is perfectly grammatical.


Posted 2016-07-26T13:33:07.670

Reputation: 116 610


"Created equal" means "created such that they are equal".

A homosexual man might say, "Your God created me gay!". This is the same grammar: gay is an adjective, complement to the verb created.

(And note, by the way, it cannot be: "... created me gaily!")

"Created equally" is an awkward application of an adverb to a verb. A speaker who uses this might be making a mistake, having intended to say "created equal", or might be trying to say "created according to the same procedure, to the same level of completion".

"Equally" is usually a helping adverb in an adverbial phrase as in "equally well", "equally far" and so on. By itself, it usually refers to something being done such that there are even proportions:

  • "The food rations were divided equally among the stranded passengers."

  • "Daniel treated his three children equally when it came to love or discipline."

To say, "created to the same level of completion, by the same procedure", we normally say "created in the same way". Equally doesn't function very effectively as a synonym for in the same way; at least not in all the circumstances in which we can use in the same way.


Posted 2016-07-26T13:33:07.670

Reputation: 6 114