Problems with Passives

Although all passives come from active sentences with transitive verbs, not all transitive verbs can make passives.

Verbs which express a state often don't make passives

The verb have in Heloise has a problem. is a transitive verb:

But the corresponding passive doesn't work:

*A problem is had by Heloise.

Similarly, lack in Bill lacks common sense is transitive

But the corresponding passive

*Common sense is lacked by Bill.

doesn't sound right.

Active sentences with possessive pronouns modifying the D.O. or I.O. typically don't make good passives:

Alice did her homework.
*Her homework was done by Alice.

The only way this sentence will work is if her is not coreferential with Alice, i.e., Alice did someone else's homework and that person happened to be female.

Alice sent an email message to her brother.
*An email message was sent to her brother by Alice.

Again, the sentence works only if the recipient was not Alice's brother.

Alice loaned Sam her car.
*Sam was loaned her car by Alice.
*Her car was loaned Sam by Alice.

This is pretty clumsy even if Alice had loaned someone else's car.

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Comments to: Sara Kimball
Last updated January, 2001