I want to reward you -> You should be rewarded.

I want to be nice to you -> You should be be'd nice to.

What's the fancy linguistic way to describe this gap in English, and what's the right way to say it?

  • 1
    Passive applies to transitive clauses with verbs. Be nice to is a predicate adjective, so passive can't apply to it. The right way to say it is the active: I want to be nice to you -> I should be nice to you. Oh, and btw, there is no "be'ed" in English. Feb 20, 2015 at 20:44
  • @JohnLawler I think colloquially you might get away with be been nice to, with the idiom recategorized as a transitive; but certainly You should be treated nicely would be more acceptable in any register. Feb 20, 2015 at 20:46
  • Sure. Treat is, of course, a verb, so passive can work. The mistake is thinking that because be nice is an active predicate adjective (it can occur in the progressive and imperatives, for instance), and because it's transitivized by to, that it's therefore a transitive verbal phrase that can be passivized. But passive requires a verb to be inflected and no adjective will fit the sprockets properly. Feb 20, 2015 at 20:51
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    @JohnLawler My sense is that the OP understands that be'ed is not a real word, he's looking for a deeper explanation of why English doesn't allow this kind of construction. Feb 20, 2015 at 20:55
  • 1
    @ChrisSunami You seem to be criticising English when you ask why it doesn't allow this kind of construction; albeit it being a very convoluted construction. I can't speak for many languages but I can tell you that French has no passive voice at all, even for transitive verbs. You cannot actually say I was given a book other than as On m'a donné un livre literally Someone gave me a book.
    – WS2
    Feb 20, 2015 at 23:43

1 Answer 1


There is no gap here.

In the first case, reward is a transitive verb (it takes an object) and therefore it can be used in a passive voice (be rewarded).

In the second example the verb is the copular be. It has no passive voice — it would make no sense if it did.

I can be but you can't be beed. What would that mean? It would require that you were the object of my being, which contradicts the definition of the verb! I am the object of my own being. (Here I'm using being as a verb, not a noun).

The role of the copular be here is to express having a state or quality and you is an indirect object. This structure has no passive form.

Here are a couple of examples of this.

I was angry towards Mary.

I became agitated at the photocopier.

If the verb is transitive, the passive form is possible.

active: I sent flowers to Mary.

passive: Mary was sent flowers by me.

If you want a passive form for the second sentence, you'll need to pick a construction that allows it. For example,

I want to appreciate you.

You should be appreciated.

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