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The mixture was added water.

This sentence, written by a non-native speaker, seems somehow odd to me, but I cannot say that I find it at all ambiguous. This example sentence is written by a speaker of Indian English. If you can provide any information on whether this issue is a standard feature of Indian English, or South-East Asian English, I would greatly appreciate that. I have to make it American English, but, if this is totally standard and acceptable Indian English, or SE Asian English, I was told, then making these changes should not be done.

Is the sentence problematic by normal prescriptive rules? If so, what is the simplest remedy? If not, why does it seem odd?

The problem seems to me that the writer is treating “add” as a double-object verb (i.e., one that takes both a direct and an indirect object, such as “give.” Example:

The boy was given a present.

(Someone) gave the boy a present.

But, in the case of "add," that doesn't seem to work, as the required preposition "to" for the indirect object in the active (non-passive) version below shows.

The mixture was added water

(Someone) added water to the mixture.

  • Whatever it means, it's poorly written. – Hot Licks Nov 16 '15 at 14:41
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This is a very interesting example. I'll give a short answer here, and leave a full explanation to someone more familiar with the syntax of this particular verb.

Verbs often take preposition phrases as a Complement. In the active voice version of the Original Poster's sentence, we see the verb add take a Direct Object and a prepositional phrase functioning as Locative Complement:

  • Someone added water [to the mixture].

In the sentence above we see water as a Direct Object, and the phrase to the mixture functioning as the Locative Complement.

Usually when we see verb plus preposition phrases like this, the preposition phrase cannot become the Subject of a passive construction. So for example if we passivise Someone slept in the bed, we get:

  • The bed was slept in.

Here the Complement of the Preposition in has become the Subject of the passivised sentence. In contrast, the preposition phrase in the bed itself cannot become the Subject:

  • *In the bed was slept. (ungrammatical)

This is the pattern that we generally see with such sentences. We cannot move the prepositional phrase into the Subject position. We can only move the noun phrase from within the preposition phrase. So the first examples in the following pairs of sentences are grammatical, and the second ones are not:

  • The notes were referred to
  • *To the notes were referred.
  • The protesters were spoken to.
  • *To the protesters were spoken
  • The goblets were drunk out of.
  • *Out of the goblets were drunk.
  • The problem was looked into.
  • *Into the problem was looked.

The active version of the Original Poster's example is:

  • Someone added water to the mixture.

We can of course make water the Subject of a passive version of the sentence:

  • Water was added to the mixture.

But we should expect to be able to make the noun phrase the mixture the Subject of a passive version of the sentence as well:

  • *The mixture was added water to. (ungrammatical)

But this gives us a poor result. Very strangely, we do seem to be able to move the whole preposition phrase to the Subject position here. Many grammarians say that this is not possible. However, there is no doubt that the only viable solution to the Original Poster's malformed sentence, without moving mixture out of the Complement phrase, is to move the entire prepositional phrase into Subject position:

  • To this mixture was added water.

Now, exactly why this should be possible, I have no idea. However, very strangely indeed, it actually is. Maybe someone else can explain why ...

Edit note

Rathony has suggested that maybe there is some phrase movement here. He is correct, I believe. I think my version of the sentence is actually one where the prepositional phrase has been fronted and the Subject post-posed. In other words my version of the sentence is a convoluted version of:

  • To the mixture water was added.

Here the Subject of the sentence is actually, of course, water. So, this made me think that perhaps this post should be deleted. However, there still remains the puzzling question, as detailed above, of why the following isn't grammatical:

  • *The mixture was added water to.

So I've turned it into a wiki instead.

  • The most obvious difference between "out of goblets were drunk" and "to the mixture was added water" is the presence of a semantic patient. What makes this difference obvious is the existence of "out of goblets was drunk wine". From this, we can guess that "the goblets were drunk out of" comes from treating "drank out of" in the active voice "someone drank out of goblets" as a transitive phrasal verb. In "someone added water to the mixture", the direct object "water" prevents treating "added to" as a unit, or considering "mixture" a patient. Lose "water", and "the mixture was added to" – Gary Botnovcan Nov 23 '15 at 1:09
  • I don’t think we should be able to make the complement in the PP the subject here at all. I can’t think of a single example of a sentence with an overt DO and an additional PP where the complement in the PP can be subjectivised in the passive version. “[Someone] flew him out of the jungle” → “He was flown out of the jungle” / “*The jungle was flown him out of” (?). When passivising, the patient becomes the core argument, but in “[Someone] added water to the mixture”, the only patient is the water—not the mixture. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 9 '16 at 12:19
  • @JanusBahsJacquet How would you account for "The mixture was added to"? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 9 '16 at 22:10
  • @Araucaria No overt object. The only argument that can take on the role of patient ends up being the mixture. The patient is usually the ‘core-most’ argument: if there's a DO or IO, that's it; otherwise, more distant arguments can get bumped up to core argument. I'm just theorising based on nothing in particular here, but as far as I can think, that would explain why PP complements can become subjects in passivised intransitive clauses, but not transitive ones. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 9 '16 at 22:16
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I wasn't really paying any proper attention to this at all, but I'll get back to you tomorrow. (This is the last post on here that I'm ever going to comment on). But I guarantee I'll give it my full attention tomorrow and get back to you. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 10 '16 at 0:04
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The verb "add" is not used as a double-object verb. You add X to Y and the passive form should be:

Water was added to the mixture (by someone).

"Add" means:

[With Object] Join (something) to something else so as to increase the size, number, or amount: a new wing was added to the building

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

Or if you really have to use the "mixture" as a subject, you could use:

The mixture was added with water.

| improve this answer | |
  • Can you drop the "to" like that? "The mixture was added with water" sounds wrong to me. I'd say "Water was added to the mixture" or maybe at a stretch "The mixture was added to with water". – Rupe Nov 16 '15 at 9:20
  • I did say that phrase was a stretch. By "dropping the to" I mean that normally one adds something to something else (as you yourself point out) and yet the phrase "added with water" has no to in it. This phrase sounds wrong to me, and the only hits I find are quite technical. – Rupe Nov 16 '15 at 9:37
  • "The mixture was added with water": This seems to be the basis of my example. The specific example is not the issue per se. A more generic example would be "Coffee was added milk." But then if Rupe thinks that can be reworded as "coffee can be added with milk," then Rupe's dialect conflicts with my dialect. In my dialect, "coffee can be added with milk" would mean that coffee can be added to some X along with milk. – curious-proofreader Nov 16 '15 at 13:15
  • However "The mixture was added with water" conveys a different meaning. It sounds for example like an explanation for a failure of an experiment. Someone had to add the mixture to a cylinder, but at the same time they added water. Ie. the mixture and water were added to something else and water wasn't supposed to be (hence the word order). – macraf Nov 16 '15 at 15:08
  • To me if we use added with it sounds a bit like the water and the mixture were added to something else? What do you think? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 16 '15 at 15:34

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