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I received e-mail from New York Times that reads;

What We’re Reading: Get recommendations from New York Times reporters and editors, highlighting great stories from around the web. “What We’re Reading” emails are sent twice a week. Sign up

I pushed “Sign Up” (but I didn't pay or agree to pay anything for this service), and found the following message in turn;

"Thank you! You’re subscribed."

OALED defines ‘subscribe’ as verb (1) to pay money, normally once a year, to receive regular copies of a newspaper, magazine, etc.

Why is it "You're subscribed" in passive form, not in active form?

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The passive use leaves open the possibility that someone else has taken action to subscribe you.

In the electronic age, where spam is not only an everyday hassle, but is becoming a legal issue as well, it can be annoying to the assumed subscriber, as well as factually wrong, to send you en email describing you have actively subscribed.

The actual subscription may have been effectuated by a third party, benevolently or not, or even an automated system (although these seem to be getting outlawed nowadays.

I think that especially for those remembering the days of paper media, the concept of being subscribed rather than subscribing may be remembered in the form of gift subscription. If I give someone a subscription to a paper or magazine, they certainly are subscribed, but as certainly, they never did subscribe themselves.


From the point of view of the company that offers the subscription services (let's call them ACME), it is irrelevant who performed the action of subscribing. When their system receives a request for Alice to be subscribes, all they know is that they need to inform Alice that such a request was received and handled.

Now ACME can send two messages:

(A) You subscribed.
(B) You are subscribed.

In case Alice filled out the subscription form, statement (A) is obviously accurate. Statement (B) is also accurate, because from the point of view of ACME, Alice is subscribed.

Yes, if we ask Alice about what happened, she is unlikely to say "I am subscribed by Alice". But Alice is not sending this message. ACME is.

In case Bob filled out the subscription form in Alice's name, statement (A) is inaccurate, but statement (B) is accurate. In this case, Alice would be able to state that she is subscribed. Although she may not know by whom.


TLDR: there are reasons to assume that a subscription does not always result from someone subscribing themselves. So using the passive and leaving out the agent makes for a statement that has less chance of being inaccurate.

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    I don't understand your last statement, it seems to contradict with your initial claim. For example the phrase you have been subscribed is also in the passive voice, which uses the present perfect tense. Are you saying this example has less chance of being misunderstood or being inaccurate? – Mari-Lou A Nov 19 '14 at 8:08
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    @Mari-LouA: yes, any use of the passive form without mentioning the agent leaves open the possibility that a third party subscribed me. I am not sure I know what contradiction you are referring to? "You subscribed" is only true if "you" did it. "You are subscribed" is true whether "you" did it or one of your Facebook friends. So the passive form is less likely to be inaccurate. – oerkelens Nov 19 '14 at 8:12
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In effect, it means not merely "You have subscribed", but "You have an active subscription", implying that you will be receiving the benefits of the subscription fee for as long as you are subscribed. It also gives the NYT the possibility of sending you an email one day that says "You are no longer subscribed", with the painful implication that you are no longer the beneficiary of their wonderful services and/or products.

Ultimately, I think it's a marketing gimmick whose value for the organization you are paying a subscription fee to is that it can make you feel the lack of an active subscription more keenly when your subscription expires, and give you a warm (but probably brief) glow of reassurance at being reminded that you have an active subscription: "You're subscribed!"

All this despite the fact that the contractual position between you and the NYT in terms of its obligations towards you is identical regardless of whether they tell you "You're subscribed" or merely "You have subscribed"...

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    Internet trading is becoming a menace. A couple of years ago I started to get charges on my credit-card statement labelled 'Shoppers Discount' £10. It happened three months in a row. When I looked into it I was informed that I had subscribed to a 'discount purchasing club', when booking some cinema tickets, three months prior to the first entry appearing. I got all the money back, after threatening to go to court. But the OP in this post would be advised to check into the details of exactly what they have been 'subscribed' into. – WS2 Nov 19 '14 at 10:57
  • @WS2. Thanks for your advice, though I can't imagine that NYT does a con. – Yoichi Oishi Nov 21 '14 at 4:55
  • @YoichiOishi Yes the NYT is in friendly liaison with The Guardian in the UK. Both it would seem are 'responsibility personified'. – WS2 Nov 25 '14 at 17:04

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