Doing some exercises about the passive transformation (rewrite sentences from active to passive), I came up against some problems.

The problem sentences are:

  • Martin always wears casual clothes

I wrote: Casual clothes are always worn by Martin. But it's wrong. The author's book says: Not possible to rewrite the sentence. But I can't understand why.. If the sentence were: "Casual clothes are worn always by Martin", (maybe) I would change the meaning of the sentence.. It would seem like "Martin is the unique person wearing casual.."

  • Most of the guests had left the hotel by midday.

My sentence: The hotel had been left by most of the guest by midday.

Author's opinion: Not possible to rewrite the sentence. Again, I can't understand why...

  • Some parents read to their children every night.

My answer: Not possible to rewrite the sentence, because no object of 'read' is given in the sentence, so it's intransitive. Author's answer: Some children are read to by their parents.

I reviewed the examples in the book and

  • They sent me a letter -> A letter was sent to me. But it's not my case, because here the verb has an obj.

  • People shouted at the Prime Minister -> The Prime Minister was shouted at. Here the verb is intransitive (like in my case).. Do I have to conclude that if the verb is intransitive and it is followed by a preposition, I can always rewrite the sentence from active to passive?

(I'm studying on "First Certificate Language Practice, Vince - Heinemann")

(Additional question: Is 'casual clothes' singular or plural?)

  • 1
    In practice, your response for #1 would be the general usage. However, the meaning of sentence #1 as given is "If Martin is wearing clothes, they are casual", whereas your response can be read as carrying the meaning "If the clothes are casual, Martin is wearing them". There does not appear to be a way to make the sentence passive while carrying the same meaning. The nearest equivalent would be "Only casual clothes are worn by Martin", but that's not truly the passive form of the sentence given. Thus, the book is correct. Aug 4, 2017 at 19:36
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    I agree with your response for #2, and would very much like to see the book's explanation of its answer. Aug 4, 2017 at 19:42
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    I agree with the book's response for #3. While you are correct that there is no explicit object of "to read" in the original sentence, there is an implicit object of [something], whose omission emphasizes the act of reading rather than the material being read. "Their children", the indirect object, is also emphasized as the [indirect] object of the sentence by the omission of the direct object. Converting to passive makes the [indirect] object into the subject (in the absence of a direct object). Aug 4, 2017 at 19:47
  • 2
    Your subsidiary question about "casual clothes": Grammatically, "clothes" is always treated as plural. However, "clothing", which is often used interchageably, is treated as singular. Aug 4, 2017 at 19:54
  • 1
    I say - throw away the book. Aug 4, 2017 at 20:01

1 Answer 1


The obvious passive transform of 'Martin always wears casual clothes' would be 'Casual clothes are always worn by Martin.' But this is unidiomatic. I can only see it being used in a context like

'We model the clothing head office sends us. Casual clothes are always worn by Martin.'

The active equivalent would be

'Martin always wears the casual clothes [sent by head office].

You'd never say 'My new trainers are being worn by me today' instead of 'I'm wearing my new trainers today'.


Some verbs in some usages do not accept passivisation.

The boy had a knife <==///==> *A knife was had by the boy.

(Note that 'A good time was had by all' is a fixed-expression oddity.)

'Leave' in the sense of 'quit; depart from' is one of these.


Whether you slap the label 'transitive phrasal verb' on 'read to' or not (I'd call it a transitive multi-word verb), it's unitary enough to be considered to take an object.

John saw to the broken axle <====> The broken axle was seen to by John.


Some parents read to their children [every night]. <====> Some children are read to by their parents [every night]. (the determiners swapped for idiomaticity)

but not with verb + PP examples:

Jill / Some people walked to town. <==///==> *Town was walked to by Jill / some people.

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