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OK, so I'm trying to complete the following analogy:

John ate the worms.

is to

The worms were eaten.

as

John tried to eat the worms.

is to

The worms were tried to be eaten.

or

The worms were eaten attemptively.

... ? I feel like such an inarticulate fool sometimes.

Edit: I'm not asking which of the two possibilities is better, but how I might complete the analogy, preferably with "the worms" as the subject. This is so that I can write something like

The worms were stolen, taken to John's house, and [tried to be eaten].

Sorry if my question wasn't clear.

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Since the worms weren't actually eaten, they were only peripheral players in the attempt made by John. English has a lot of words, but not so many that we can spare verbs dedicated to describing the infinite number of actions that didn't take place. –  FumbleFingers Nov 24 '11 at 22:48
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Eating the worms was tried. –  GEdgar Nov 24 '11 at 22:59
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...anyway, it's the final "and" conjunction that stymies things. Change it to "but" and it's trivial - "...but could not be eaten". –  FumbleFingers Nov 25 '11 at 3:09
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Why John tried to eat WORMS!? –  daGrevis Nov 25 '11 at 9:05
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I can't answer as it's a protected question, but I'd go with "An attempt was made to eat the worms". –  Alex Norcliffe Nov 25 '11 at 13:59
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13 Answers 13

Both of those choices are bad, but if given only them as choices for completing the analogy, choose the second, because although it is clumsy, it is correct, in grammar if not quite in sense. The grammar of the other choice is in error.

However, phrasing like "An attempt was made to eat the worms" should be used if the question is open-ended.

Edit: Regarding the added question about how to (1) complete the analogy, with (2) worms as subject, to support writing "The worms were stolen, taken to John's house, and [tried to be eaten]": Aims 1 and 2 are at odds, as explained clearly and well in answers by Ben and by C Stewart, and noted in other answers and comments. That is, the analogy cannot be completed while meeting all your criteria.

Nevertheless, for your sentence consider "The worms were stolen, taken to John's house, and were the object of an attempt to eat them".

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+1. Partially for the note that this is all bad, and partially because the best available option is "An attempt was made to eat the worms". –  jprete Nov 25 '11 at 1:08
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John ate the worms.

becomes:

The worms were eaten.

Because "the worms" is the object of the first sentence. "The worms" becomes the subject of the new passive-voice sentence.

John tried to eat the worms.

Here "the worms" are not the object of the sentence, so they can't become the subject in a straightforward transformation to passive voice. The object is the phrase "to eat the worms". Notice that you can easily form a (slightly odd) passive voice sentence with this whole phrase as the new subject:

To eat the worms was tried.

This is the source of the difficulty you're having. The sentence you're trying to complete:

The worms were stolen, taken to John's house, and [tried to be eaten].

already has "the worms" as a subject, which doesn't fit. So you'll need to reword it. For a minimal-change reword as a grammar exercise, maybe:

The worms were stolen, taken to John's house, and eating them was tried.

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excellent explanation –  Matt Эллен Nov 25 '11 at 11:55
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How about:

The worms were stolen, taken to John's house, and an attempt to eat them was made

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That sounds like a news reporter's attempt at being "legally correct" in reporting a story. –  Joe McGrath Nov 25 '11 at 6:15
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I would go with:

The worms were stolen, taken to John's house and very nearly eaten.

Alternatively,

The worms were stolen, taken to John's house and almost successfully eaten.

I don't see any good way to get around implying the attempt, rather than stating it.

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The worms were stolen, taken to John's house, and subjected to an attempted ingestion.

or if you want to keep the verb "eat",

The worms were stolen, taken to John's house, and subjected to an attempt at eating them.

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[tl;dr Your difficulty is quite natural. You set yourself a problem that doesn't have a good solution.]

The schema that takes

(1) John ate the worms.

to

(2) The worms were eaten.

is one that transforms

  • the sentence (1) in the active voice with the agentive verb "to eat" connecting the agent

into

  • the passive voice sentence (2), where the main verb is an auxiliary (the stative verb to be), the former agent vanishes, and the former patient becomes the subject.

By the way, note also that the passive form need not conceal the agent:

(3) The worms were eaten by John.

This scheme cannot be made to work with

(4) John tried to eat the worms.

because (4) has no agentive verb connecting John with the worms. Instead "tried" is a catenative verb, and "to eat" is an infinitive that has no subject. Neither verb is in the active voice, which exists only with agentive verbs.

Hence there is no analogous conversion of this sentence to the passive.

At this point, you have to ask yourself what you really want. There seem to be many examples that give you some of the properties

  1. A passive construction with the worms as subject
  2. Concealment of John's agency
  3. Something that keeps to try and to eat as its verbs, and may only introduces auxiliaries like "were"

but I think you can't have 1&3 together because of constraints on the ways you can use "to try". For example:

  • 1&2, Lynn's example: The worms were nearly eaten. But "nearly" isn't "tried", so it's not clear it means quite the same thing.
  • 2&3: Someone tried to eat the worms. It doesn't try to be passive.

To see the difficulty with the third, spot the two ways in which this fails to satisfy the third property:

  • 1&?: The worms were subjected to John's try at eating

Notes

I've tried to link to definitions of the least widely known grammatical terms, but weirdly I found no good link for agentive verb. These are verbs where there is an actor and optionally a patient, that is, they are the action verbs that show someone or something doing something.

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Are you aware that you prefixed your answer with "tl;dr" and then proceeded to write an answer that is longer than the question? –  Alex Norcliffe Nov 25 '11 at 13:58
    
@Alex: I apply tl;dr only to the line it begins. You are meant to find the full answer too long and not read past the first line. –  Charles Stewart Nov 27 '11 at 21:03
    
@CharlesStewart tl;dr is usually used to denote the start of the summary of a long post, rather than something that is long in and of itself. –  Hannele Jan 12 '12 at 21:05
    
@Hannele: which is how I've used it. The summary is one line long. –  Charles Stewart Feb 24 '12 at 8:22
    
@CharlesStewart Oh, I see! Usually the summary (and tl;dr) is placed at the end - here it's ambiguous as to how much of the post is the summary. –  Hannele Feb 28 '12 at 15:04
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Perhaps:

The worms were attempted to be eaten.

A little less awkward than 'tried'?

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6  
I'm not 100% sure this is grammatically correct... –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 25 '11 at 0:08
    
Works for me, but this becomes ambiguous when used in the longer example sentence: "The worms were stolen, taken to John's house, and attempted to be eaten" could (at least in practice, by a reader not bothering to carefully count the commas and conjunctions) be parsed either as "the worms were ... attempted to be eaten" or as "the worms ... attempted to be eaten", which would ascribe to the worms a much more active role in the process than they presumably should have. –  Ilmari Karonen Nov 25 '11 at 14:08
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How about... The worms were unsuccessfully eaten. The worms were abortively eaten. But my vote would be...

  • The worms were left uneaten.
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As @FumbleFingers said, there is no specific intransitive verb for 'attempted to be eaten', so I don't think the sentence can be completed in precisely the way you desire.

Some alternatives would be:

The worms were stolen, taken to John's house, and nearly/almost eaten.

or

The worms were stolen and taken to John's house, where he attempted to eat them.

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John is the subject, and the action "eating of the worms" is the object (not the worms themselves!).

So:

Eating the worms was tried by John.

Or, more expressively:

Eating of the worms was attempted by John.

I can't imagine ever actually saying it, though!

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I don't think attemptedly is a real word, but it sounds like one, and I think most people would understand the meaning of:

The worms were stolen, taken to John's house, and attemptedly eaten.

Or if you want to be sure you're using real words:

The worms were stolen, taken to John's house, and eating them was attempted.

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Ah! I think what the OP might really be looking for is the adverb form of 'to try' or 'to attempt'. –  Hannele Nov 24 '11 at 23:11
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"The worms were stolen and taken to John's house. There, an unsuccessful attempt was made to eat them."

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Assuming that the initiator of the action is still John. I'd say the following:

John tried to have the worms eaten.

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Sounds like John tried hiring someone to eat them. –  ShreevatsaR Nov 25 '11 at 2:43
    
Does sound like that doesn't it? :). –  deutschZuid Nov 25 '11 at 2:45
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Also, "John tried X" isn't actually passive voice. :-) –  ShreevatsaR Nov 25 '11 at 3:07
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protected by RegDwigнt Nov 25 '11 at 11:59

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