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While watching a video of Stephen Jenkinson I was challenged by the declaration that grammatically 'die' cannot be used as a passive verb.

Is it possible to use die as a passive verb? Nothing I tried seems to make sense.

For example:

He was died. (incorrect grammar)

According to: grammar.ccc.commnet.edu

Verbs are also said to be either active (The executive committee approved the new policy) or passive (The new policy was approved by the executive committee) in voice.

In the active voice, the subject and verb relationship is straightforward: the subject is a be-er or a do-er and the verb moves the sentence along.

In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is neither a do-er or a be-er, but is acted upon by some other agent or by something unnamed (The new policy was approved).

In reality, it seems like death is an agent that can act upon a living entity against its' will. A person might go through the dying process all the while fighting death. Finally, if the person is taken by death against their wishes; then we can't use the active voice.

I suppose it could be said that "he has been taken by death". However, the verb die seems unusable. In the scenario above, he was not the do-er or the be-er.

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    Intransitive verbs don't have an object, and so can't go through the transformation to passive (where an object becomes the center).
    – Mitch
    Feb 23, 2015 at 2:24
  • For the sense of "cause someone/thing to die," we have the verb "kill." Feb 23, 2015 at 2:38
  • @StevenLittman I suppose that both the statement, "Death killed him.", and, "Death caused him to die.", could work in the anthropomorphic sense.
    – nu everest
    Feb 23, 2015 at 3:25
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    Kill is the causative verb; it's transitive, so passive can apply. Die is the inchoative verb; it's intransitive, so passive can't apply (pro tip: "passive" applies to clauses, not verbs; there has to be a transitive verb with a direct object to make a passive clause). Dead is the stative predicate (a predicate adjective with be instead of a verb), which is also intransitive, as most predicate adjectives and nouns are. Feb 23, 2015 at 4:20
  • "Dying happened to him." :)
    – DyingIsFun
    Jan 6, 2016 at 2:02

3 Answers 3

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Verbs that normally are used without any object such as

  • He died/laughed/was laughing/wept

don't have a passive because you have no object that can be transformed into a subject in a passive sentence.

Not possible: He was died/laughed/wept.

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  • It is not using the passive voice to simply change "died" to "was died". For example, "I received a letter" does not become "I was received a letter".
    – Joffan
    Feb 23, 2015 at 17:17
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died only takes a subject. In order to make a verb passive, you need to make a sentence in the active form with a subject and object. You cant say"he died someone," and therefore cannot say "he was died by someone." if you wish to emphasize that death was not his doing, you would have to use a verb such as killed, or, as you said, taken by death. But remember both have their own active and passive forms.

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Well, it is tough - you have to find a case where dying is a transitive verb. The closest I can get is the idea that some one can "die a death" of some particular quality:

My uncle died a lingering death 

becomes

A lingering death was died in that room over the next few days

... which is a bit purple, but might qualify.

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  • it seems that the intransitive nature of 'die' makes 'was died' incorrect.
    – nu everest
    Feb 23, 2015 at 4:44
  • I address that in the text of my answer, and have clarified further
    – Joffan
    Feb 23, 2015 at 5:09

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