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Passive constructions with prepositional monotransitive verbs

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Active: Passive: The man referredto this book. This book was referred to by the man.


In the passive construction the subject of the prepositional passive construction corresponds to the object of the active construction and denotes the receiver of the action. The peculiarity of the construction is that the preposition sticks to the verb.

Most verbs of this type denote the process of speaking, mental and physical perception.

The prepositional passive construction has no equivalent in Russian and is translated by an indefinite personal active construction.


Caroline was also still being talked about. Не had never been spoken to that way in his life. He’s well spoken of as a man of science. О Кэролайн тоже все еще продолжали говорить. С ним так никогда в жизни не разговаривали. О нем хорошо отзываются как об ученом.


When the prepositional passive construction contains a modal verb, an impersonal active construction is used in Russian.


These pictures must be looked at again and again with sustained attention before they completely reveal their beauty. На эти картины надо смотреть снова и снова с неослабевающим вниманием, прежде чем полностью раскроется их красота.


Here are some of the most important prepositional monotransitive verbs:

to account for to agree upon to appeal to to call on to comment on (upon) to deal with to decide on to depend (up)on to dispose of to dwell upon to hear of to insist on to interfere with to laugh at to listen to to look at to look for to look into to object to to pay for to provide for to put up with to read to to refer to to rely on to send for to speak about (of) to speak to to talk about (of) to think about (of) to touch upon to wait for to wonder at to catch sight of to lose sight of to find fault with to make fun of to make a fuss of to make use of to pay attention to to put an end (a stop) to to put up with to set fire to to take notice of to take advantage of to take care of   to arrive at to come to to live in to sleep in to sit in (on)

Group I in the list contains the majority (but not all) of prepositional transitive verbs. The list could be continued, for a number of verbs of the kind are used occasionally, but the pattern itself is very productive.

Some prepositional monotransitive verbs have non-prepositional equivalents, e.g. to account for is a synonym for to explain, to look on - to regard, to speak (talk) about - to discuss.


Your absence must be accounted for. = Your absence must be explained.


Group II contains phraseological units based on the fusion of a monotransitive verb and a noun as direct object. These units express one notion and function as prepositional verbs. Many of them have synonyms among monotransitive verbs, prepositional and non-prepositional:


to take care of to find fault with to put an end to to put up with to make fun of - to look after, to tend; - to grumble at, about, to criticize; - to stop; - to reconcile oneself to; - to laugh at, to mock.

Like single prepositional verbs the phraseological units with the verb in the passive voice are usually rendered in Russian by means of indefinite personal or impersonal constructions.


In hospital patients are taken great care of. The boy was the only child and was made a lot of fuss of. I’m not prepared to think that I’m being made a fool of. В госпитале за больными хорошо ухаживают. Мальчик был единственным ребенком в семье, и с ним много возились. Мне не хочется думать, что меня дурачат.  


Sometimes a phraseological unit is split and the original direct object becomes the subject of the passive construction (the direct passive).


No notice was taken of the boy at first. - Сначала мальчика не замечали.


Group III contains a short list of intransitive verbs used with preposi­tional nominal groups functioning as prepositional objects or adverbial modifiers. These may form passive constructions by analogy with other verbs used with prepositions:


No conclusion was arrived at. His bed hasn’t been slept in. Such a dress can’t be sat down in. He пришли ни к какому заключению. В его постели не спали. (Она не смята) В таком платье нельзя садиться.  

The use of the passive voice

§ 71. The passive voice is widely used in English. It is used alongside the active voice in written and spoken English. Passive constructions are often used instead of active constructions in sentences beginning with an indefinite pronoun, a noun or a pronoun of indefinite reference.


Somebody left the dog in the garden. Has anybody answered your questions? People will laugh at you for your trouble. They told me to go away. = The dog was left in the garden. = Have your questions been answered? = You will be laughed at for your trouble. = I was told to go away.


It is evident that in the process of speech passive constructions arise naturally, not as a result of conversion from the active into the passive.

A passive construction is preferable in case when the speaker is interested in what happens to the person or thing denoted by the subject. The verb or the whole verb phrase is thus made more prominent. The agent or the source of the action is not mentioned at all, either because it is unknown or because it is of no particular importance in the utterance, or else it is evident from the context or the situation. The predicate verb with its modifiers contains a new and most important item of information and is of great communicative value.


We were brought up together.

I am always being contradicted.

Thank you for your help, but it is no longer required.

You will be met as you leave the airport, and you will be given another ticket.

In silence the soup was finished - excellent, if a little thick; and fish was brought. In silence it was



There are a number of conventional expressions where the passive voice is constantly used.


The novel was published in 1929.

Shakespeare was born in 1564.


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