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What is the difference between "the door opened" and "the door was opened"? Are there subtle differences?

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  • What did your previous research tell you? You have to tell us so that we do not recreate an entire academic text. – tchrist Sep 8 '14 at 1:59
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    Yes, there are subtle differences, though they can both mean the same thing as well. The door opened is the inchoative use of open; this means "came to be open; became open", and it's intransitive -- open has no object, and nothing is said about why it opened. The door was opened is a passive sentence, with the past participle of open (not the past tense, as in The door opened) preceded by a form of be. This is the causative use of open, which means "cause to be open" -- with a passive, in this case, "was caused to be open", by some unknown agent. But deliberately. – John Lawler Sep 8 '14 at 2:41
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    @JohnLawler Why post as a comment and not an answer? That looks like a fine answer to me. – Brian Campbell Sep 8 '14 at 3:12
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active voice: the door opened
passive voice: the door was opened

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  • Welcome to ELU.SE. While this answer is technically correct, have a look at answers on the linked question to see the sort of thing which gets upvoted as useful. – Andrew Leach Sep 8 '14 at 7:12
  • Your answer is misleading, in that this doesn't give the normal active – passive transformation: active voice: John opened the door <==> passive voice: the door was opened [by John]. In both renderings here, the agent is the same (John). With the inchoative use, there may not even be an agent (and none can be mentioned). – Edwin Ashworth Sep 8 '14 at 7:17

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