Is it possible to write a sentence in English with the verb before the passive subject?

If so, please provide examples.

  • 1
    A very common mistake for English learners coming from Brazilian Portuguese is to write e.g. "It was paid the suppliers" when they mean "The suppliers were paid", because in Brazilian Portuguese there is a widely use passive construction with the verb in front. Apr 2, 2016 at 16:29
  • There’s a big difference between what can be done and what should be done: Shot was he by the policeman.
    – Jim
    Apr 2, 2016 at 16:31
  • But you can make that sentence perfectly acceptable by adding to: “It was paid to the suppliers.” which could be the response to the question, “Where did that payment go?” or “To whom was that payment issued?”
    – Jim
    Apr 2, 2016 at 16:33
  • 1
    “It was paid to the suppliers.” But now suppliers is no longer the passive subject, is it? Apr 2, 2016 at 18:16
  • 1
    Right. I was just stating how that sentence could be made to be acceptable with a slight modification, not that doing so would maintain the passive, verb-first nature of the sentence.
    – Jim
    Apr 2, 2016 at 21:18

2 Answers 2


There are various constructions in English where the verb or the auxiliary precedes the subject; but since passives in English always require an auxiliary, it is almost always only the auxiliary and not the main verb which may precede the subject.

Occasionally in poetry, or very old-fashioned writing, writers will alter the syntax further. For example the 1896 translation of a mediaeval bestiary contains the sentence:

Never was seen another such a beast, for it lives on land and in water.

I don't believe you will find such an instance without an initial adverbial or adverbial phrase ("Never" in that example).

  • Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, And the sky is not cloudy all day. - Home on the Range.
    – Phil Sweet
    Apr 3, 2016 at 0:58
  • As I said, in poetry. And with an initial adverbial ("seldom").
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 3, 2016 at 15:32

Of course:

Through the good offices of the embassy was arranged a new passport, a replacement visa, and a letter of introduction to the foreign minister.

  • This is interesting, because I have a feeling that the word there has been elided, between embassy and was. And If I say there was arranged a new passport - is passport the subject? If it is then I can think of endless instances where the passive verb precedes the subject.
    – WS2
    Apr 2, 2016 at 19:34
  • @WS2 I think they're different structures, but if passport is the subject, what's there?
    – deadrat
    Apr 3, 2016 at 4:48
  • It calls for a grammarian (such as @Colin Fine), which sadly I am not. But equally one could say Lying on the table was a passport. I think lying on the table is an adverbial phrase which complements the verb was. It seems to me to be doing the same thing as there in my earlier example. However there in there was a mouse in the house, seems to be performing the same function as it in it was raining.
    – WS2
    Apr 3, 2016 at 7:30
  • @WS2 Yes, I agree that Lying on the table is an adverbial locative modifying was and that there in there was a mouse is not (it's a dummy subject). I think there in There was arranged a new passport is more like the latter than the former. It means "it came about" more than pointing to some place where passports are arranged.
    – deadrat
    Apr 3, 2016 at 8:47

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