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In software interfaces, technical documentation, scientific documentation and legal documents, I see phrases like:

The build is failed.

The test is failed.

If the test is failed,...

It seems more appropriate to me that these statements should use "has" instead of "is." But, considering that I encounter this frequently, it seems to be acceptable English. Why?


Examples, in-context:

Step 'master>Build Project' is failed.

If at any time during the test the subject detects the banana like odor of IAA, the test is failed.

If a required recertification test is failed.

The component contributes to system failure when a minimal cut set, containing the component, is failed.

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Because participles can also be used as adjectives. –  Kaiser Octavius Jun 26 '13 at 17:28
I would say it isn't acceptable in any organisation I have worked in. I would be quite aggrieved if one of my coders worte something in such poor English. –  Rory Alsop Jun 26 '13 at 17:32
As an aside, Don't look for paradigms of proper grammar from the CFR (Code of Federal Regulations). It looks like they have passivized "If X happens, then the company failed regulatory hurdle Y" into "If X happens, then test Y is failed." I use Maven for building projects, and it says "BUILD FAILED." I have not seen "Step Z is failed." –  rajah9 Jun 26 '13 at 18:23
As with others, I think that this usage arose erroneously, or even through lazy printing messages without taking the time to have the program construct proper grammar. The answer you accepted only addresses one case whereby things are acceptable — there are many more cases where it is not. An answer should address these in order to be instructive –  New Alexandria Aug 20 '13 at 18:27
@NewAlexandria I posted this question only after seeing the pattern of usage in multiple situations and texts. If it is indeed erroneous, it is widely applied. –  mawcsco Aug 20 '13 at 18:54
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3 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Step 'master>Build Project' is failed.

It sounds like "failed" here is acting as an adjective, in the same way you could say: "Step 4 is required." or "Step 4 is completed".

Technically this is correct - participles can be used as adjectives. However, the use of "failed" in that manner sounds awkward to me and I can't put my finger on why exactly. It might be because "failed" is not usually thought of as a static state, but more as an action.

If a required re-certification test is failed...

This one and the others all sound like the verb "failed" is being used in passive voice. They could all be rewritten into active voice like: "If the technician fails a re-certification test..." or "If the test subject detects the odor, the test fails..."

In many styles of writing, active voice is preferred over passive voice for clarity and easier reading. However, in other styles of writing (particularly technical/legalese, which it sounds like you're quoting from), the more stilted sound of passive voice is more common - and perhaps even preferred. Either way, it is correct.

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I agree with you, the first just "feels wrong." I'm getting the notion that it might be a bit of Engrish on a tech product. Your second observation of passive voice seems very plausible to me. It's possible that this passive-voice-tech-writing leads to confusion for non-native speakers who repeat the mistake. –  mawcsco Jul 3 '13 at 18:21
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Without more complete sentence examples it's hard to be sure about this, but in the IT environment I work in, "Failed" can be either a past-tense verb or an adjective describing something in a state of failure.

In the former sense, "the test is failed" is incorrect. In the latter sense, "the build is (in a) failed (state) is acceptable.

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Yeah, I get that it is deemed "acceptable." I'm wondering what justification or reasoning makes it acceptable. –  mawcsco Jun 26 '13 at 17:35
@mawcsco Is correct a better term? It's justified because in the instance I listed, failed is an adjective, not a verb. –  Marcus_33 Jun 26 '13 at 17:38
@mawcsco; the justification would be that the test itself has not failed (it has succeeded in identifying a problem); the build, or whatever, has failed the test, so the test is failed just as the light is red. This may be unpersuasive in the cases you give, but it's not illogical. –  TimLymington Jun 26 '13 at 17:44
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There are at least two kinds of tests. In standardized tests, you are dealing with fairly well known outcomes and the test is to see if a given entity meets those standards.

The driving test is failed by many people every day.

The test isn't a failure, it is an accepted standard that many takers cannot meet (at least yet).

In experiments, a standard or goal, often not fully known or established, is postulated. The experiment (or test) is conducted. If the outcome is not what is expected, the test has failed, not necessarily the tester or test taker.

For the experimental vaccine, the test has failed to show any beneficial results.

Build seems a bit more complex in that it is jargon within a particular field and might be better answered by experts in that field.

SUPPLEMENT The following is in response to the original poster's comment below.

In the test is failed usage discussed above, the logical subject of the discussion is the test taker.

John fails the driving test

The driving test is failed by John

The second sentence is a passive construction that moves the logical subject (John) into a prepositional phrase. While test is the grammatical subject, it is still not the logical subject, but the logical object of the sentence.

In the second example, the test itself is the logical subject of the discussion.

The test (e.g. the experiment) has failed to yield results.

This is an active voice and the test is the grammatical and logical subject of the sentence. It could also be said in the simple past tense as

The test failed to yield results

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In your first example, you follow, "test is failed" with "by ...", and that makes sense. But, that's not what my question is about. In your second example, you use "has" instead of "is" which is what I expect, but not what I see. In essence, your answer only begs the question instead of answering it. –  mawcsco Jun 26 '13 at 18:50
Passive constructions may be used without 'by-phrases'. The conditions were not met / The conditions were not met by any of the candidates. So 'If the candidate knocks over a policeman, the driving test is failed' is fine. Extended versions are: 'If the candidate knocks over a policeman, the driving test is deemed to have been failed.' and 'If the examinee knocks over a policeman, the driving test is deemed to have been failed by the candidate.' 'The test has failed' may mean either 'This particular test fails to give useful data' or 'The test shows that we need a different approach'. –  Edwin Ashworth Jun 26 '13 at 20:41
@EdwinAshworth I agree with all you say. But the question remains, under what circumstances is the test is failed appropriate? Briefly, I think it is used for cases where failing is a success - it distinguises the acceptable from the unacceptable. A failed experiment may guide us, but its purpose is to lead to standards or conclusions, not to try something against an accepted standard. –  bib Jun 26 '13 at 21:03
'The test is failed' is when one is commenting that the test has been failed. –  Edwin Ashworth Jun 26 '13 at 23:07
@bib I'd like to see this answer expand to justify "John fails the driving test; The driving test is failed." Note the period after failed. Your second example is unrelated to my question. –  mawcsco Jul 3 '13 at 18:19
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