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What would be the passive of the following sentence?

You dare not talk to her.

Also, is it right to say "you dare not talk to her" at all?

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    It's OK to say You dare not talk to her. But this is not a transitive sentence, so it doesn't have a passive transform. Sorry. – John Lawler Sep 23 '14 at 16:11
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    That's not transitive, either. "Transitive" means there is a direct object. You need to have a direct object in the original sentence, because that's what becomes the new subject in the passive transform. There's no direct object in He must talk to her -- and before you ask, He should/can/may/might/would talk to her are also intransitive, because talk is intransitive. – John Lawler Sep 23 '14 at 16:21
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    @ws 2 in my opinion dares in "He dares all" is acting as a main verb and not as a modal verb. Also shouldn't it be "all are dared by him". – user92268 Sep 23 '14 at 16:29
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    @john sir, is it right: active :I must do it. Passive : it must be done by me. – user92268 Sep 23 '14 at 16:38
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    Whenever you use a modal and a negative together, odd phenomena are possible. And they're excessively idiomatic. Dare only has a deontic sense, since it refers to emotions. The question is -- whose emotions? Normally it would be the subject's, but if you passivize, you got a different subject and that doesn't always work. As for I dare not be distracted, what it means is I dare not allow myself to be distracted, where the passive is in the complement. – John Lawler Sep 24 '14 at 14:09
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Modals as Defective Verbs

Modals are considered neither transitive nor intransitive. Modals just change some aspect of the principal verb. This is normally either some aspect that says something about the simple “futureness” or probability, or else instead something about how the world is supposed to be but is not.

Not being transitive themselves, they cannot transfer any “action” to an object for that object to be then used as a subject in a passive construction.

As verbs go, modals are formally defective. They have no to-infinitive, no participles, they can’t be used in imperatives, &c&c&c — really nothing else that a verb is supposed to have to be a proper verb.

Since they have no participles, modals cannot themselves be turned into passive forms: you need a “passive past participle” for that, and they have no participles.

Their defective state is why you cannot take a modal like must and make of it forms like *musting or *musted or even *musts. That means nothing can ever “be *musted”. (Well, not in the obligatory way; there are other verbs named must which are not modals, but they don’t matter here.)

Modal dare

As with must’s lack of needed forms, the same is true with dare when it it is used modally. These are modal uses:

  • He must say nothing to her.
  • He dare say nothing to her. (notice for future that it reads he dare, not an inflected he dares)

The principal verb is say, with must or dare just along for the ride. Neither dare nor must themselves have a direct object for you to scoop up and use for a subject in those sentences. Nothing is the direct object of say, not of dare or of must.

This is a modal use because it didn’t inflect for the third-person present singular. When it does, it is not a modal use:

  • He dares to tell her of his past.

Now it is on different from something like:

  • He hopes to tell her of his past.

Non-modal dare

On the other hand, dare also enjoys a non-modal existence, and here it can be either intransitive or transitive. And when transitive, if it has an object, then you can flip it.

  • He dared anything for her sake.

That one has a direct object for its inflected, non-modal use of transitive dare, so you can make that one passive:

  • Anything was dared by him for her sake.

However, I dare say that that one is not the kind of dare you are talking about, although the first one in this sentence was.

Applying modals to passive infinitives

There is another way of looking at it, however. It might well be better if I durst1 say nothing, but if I didn’t, someone else would. So I might as well be the one to make — and break — the case for the tempting but ultimately unworkable alternative.

That’s because there is still a way to use modals with passives: by factoring them out first.

That way you can still reverse the subject and object by taking the past participle of the main verb.

However, instead of inflecting be, you use its bare infinitive form and re-apply the original modal to the resulting passive infinitive, so something like “be WHATEVERed”.

Some of these work alright:

  • He will explain everything to her.
  • Everything will be explained by him to her.

or

  • He will talk to her.
  • She will be talked to by him.

or

  • He might call her.
  • She might be called by him.

Those aren’t too bad, just wordy.

But not with dare

But now consider pulling that stunt with dare. I’ve prefixed the resulting transformations with a funny “?” sigil to indicate my suspicion that they won’t fly.

  • He dare tell her nothing.
  • ? Nothing dare be told her by him.

or

  • He dare not call her.
  • ? She dare not be called by him.

See how that just doesn’t really work? You can’t transfer modal dare like that to a passive infinitive, because once you’ve done that, it wants to attribute the “daringness” of the matter to the wrong party altogether.

I do not recommend it. I seriously do not recommend it.

Curiously, this doesn’t mean that you can never use dare with passive infinitives. You certainly can:

  • I dare not be distracted by the construction noise.

However, just as before, you cannot invert that one, this time from passive to active, without the whole sentence falling apart:

  • *The construction noise dare not distract me.

Ok sure, you can say it, but it is meaningless. It certainly does not mean the same thing as the original did.

Other semi-modals

You may have the same problem you have with dare with the other semi-modals, need and ought, which work like must but perhaps not so strongly.

Since those two work like must, here first is must used epistemically:

  • He must know that already.
  • That must be known by him already.

Whereas this is must used deontically:

  • He must not call her.
  • She must not be called by him.

Here is modal need:

  • He need not call her.
  • She need not be called by him.

And here is modal ought:

  • He ought not call her.
  • She ought not be called by him.

Those ones you might get away with. Maybe. They sound pretty awful, but the duty/obligation sense just might survive being transferred from one party to the other with the passive transformation, at least with ought.

Failure of Deontic–Epistemic Bimodal Duality in Modal dare

Perhaps this difference is because ought can be used either epistemically or deontically just like any other full-fledged modal can.

I’m not sure that modal need can be used both ways.

And I am pretty sure that modal dare does not enjoy a bimodal existence at all — which makes it especially weird for a modal, since they should all be able to go both ways.

Modals should also not have past tenses (backshifting aside), which is another of dare’s funny old quirks. Watch:

  • I dare mention nothing of this to my children; they just aren’t ready for it.
  • Yesterday, I dared mention nothing of this to my children; they just weren’t ready for it.
  • I have never dared mention any of this to my children; I’ve never wanted them to know.

There we’re inflecting dare into a past-tense form, yet using it with a bare infinitive instead of with a to-infinitive as if it were some sort of ordinary catenative verb.

You can’t use it as a modal imperatively:

  • *Dare dream great things!

But if you stick in a to-infinitive, now you can:

  • Dare to dream great things!

Summary

I don’t think that with modal dare, you can sensibly get away with swapping subject and object and then use it on a passive infinitive.

Unfortunately, I have no explanation for why that path seems blocked. I am no expert, but it truly feels to me like there is something about modal dare that simply will not allow it to be applied to the resulting passive infinitive once you’ve swapped subject and object.

My only guess is that even when it’s used in a modal-like way, dare is saying much more about its subject than about its following verb. If its semantics apply to the subject, then when you try to invert subject–object to either passifize or depassifize the clause, then you’re applying those semantics to the wrong party, and so now the meaning changes or falls apart entirely.

_________

1. Durst being the archaic past tense of dare, which today survives only in dialect and in older literature.

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  • Your comment to John's interesting. I think it's because there's some kind of control going on. Modals are normally associated with raising verbs. Dare seems to have some control-like properties. He dare __ ask her is akin to He dare himself ask her. Where the ID of that 'gap' is governed by he. Compare with She dare __ be asked by him, which is like She dare herself be asked by him. The governed bits filled in with bold words also function kinda like DO's. So, they are like I persuaded her to punch Bob which isn't the same as I persuaded Bob to be punched by her. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 24 '14 at 14:23
  • .. but that's just a shot in the dark after few minutes thought. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 24 '14 at 14:29
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I don't think it's possible to put a modal verb in the passive voice. What's the passive voice of "you must not talk to her"?

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To translate into the passive based on the verb 'dare' you would say: "Talking to her was not dared (by you)". An alternative transformation based on the verb 'talk' results in "You dare not have her talked to (by you)", though it's a clumsy sentence with slightly different implications from the original.

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  • If I consider 'talk to her' as a single entity then dare becomes a main verb and the passive would be 'talk to her is not dared by you' or should I use 'talking to her' in place of 'talk to her' if I want to consider it as a single work. – user92268 Sep 23 '14 at 17:27
  • The correct form is what I wrote in the answer. – DJClayworth Sep 23 '14 at 18:11

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