I was taught that only transitive verbs can have passive form. But today, I met a person saying that intransitive verbs can also have passive form.

He gave 2 examples as follows.

A1: I speak to John.

P1: John is spoken to by me.

A2: I look after this baby.

P2: This baby is looked after by me.

Is it correct that only transitive verbs can have passive form?

  • Since those all have objects, they are not intransitive. – tchrist Jul 30 '16 at 15:12
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    There are also 'prepositional passives' where the subject of the passive corresponds to an object of a preposition rather than of a verb. Your examples are okay, though the first one is not at all natural. A better example of a prepositional passive would be "People are looking into the matter" ~ "the matter is being looked into". – user164312 Jul 30 '16 at 15:46
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    @PaulM A large hole in the road has just appeared in Oxford Street. Police are looking into it. – WS2 Jul 30 '16 at 16:19
  • @PaulM, but we call these "prepositional passives" only because we assume that only transitives can be made passive. – Greg Lee Jul 30 '16 at 21:25

The clear, prototype cases of Passive are all transitive verbs.

  • The ball was kicked out of bounds by Harry. <= Harry kicked the ball out of bounds.
  • She has been interviewed before. <= Someone has interviewed her before.

A lot of intransitive verbs can become effectively transitive with the addition of a preposition, like see/look at or hear/listen to:

  • Everyone heard the concert. Everyone listened to the concert.
  • The concert was heard/listened to by everyone.

But Passive isn't limited to these prepositional transitives; any preposition can work,
provided it refers to a significant effect produced in the noun phrase. Then Passive can work.
So, for instance, the first sentence below is grammatical, but the second isn't.

  • This bed was slept in by George Washington.
  • *This garden was coughed in by Harry Smith.
  • But your last sentence would work with William and Andrew, no? – deadrat Jul 31 '16 at 4:31
  • Perhaps in the U.K. Though coughing in a garden hardly affects the garden to a significant degree, the affect of Royal fans can reach unmeasurable heights. – John Lawler Jul 31 '16 at 14:27
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    Sorry, just my little -- and by little, I mean obscure -- joke. William and Andrew were the original Smith Brothers of cough drop fame. – deadrat Jul 31 '16 at 18:40

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