Why can't some stative verbs be used in the passive? We can't, for example, passivize resemble, but we can passivize know, love and like?

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    Interesting question. Resemble is a reversible verb, in that the subject and object can be reversed without changing meaning; if Bill resembles Mike, then Mike resembles Bill, and we can say they resemble each other. This doesn't leave much room for passive; what would it be used for? We don't use it much for marry, except in the causative: Bill and Sue were married by John, but not *Bill was married by Sue or *Sue was married by Bill. Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:49
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    There is a one-to-one correspondence with resemble that does not exist with those verbs where subjects actually do something. Ahem.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 21:24
  • @JohnLawler Wouldn't you say that "There is a resemblance between John and Harry" makes both parties passive, or is that some other construction?
    – BoldBen
    Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 11:28
  • There's no passive in that sentence. Lots of syntax, but no passive. Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 16:53
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    "John was resembled by Harry"? Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 19:29

1 Answer 1


Syntactically transitive verbs that don't permit a passive are typically either stative verbs (have (own), lack, deserve, suit, fit, weigh, cost, etc), symmetric verbs (marry, meet) or both (resemble, equal).

That symmetric verbs can't be made passive is probably because the main point of using a passive is to alter the asymmetry of a construction by promoting the object; when the construction is symmetric this doesn't make any sense.

Meanwhile, the lack of activity in stative verbs makes elevating the object to a subject a bit strange (though not impossible). That some asymmetric stative verbs do allow it, while others don't, is probably mostly chance enforced by usage. Verbs that don't permit passives sometimes function more like copulas than regular transitive verbs, linking the subject with a property rather than linking two participants (eg weigh, cost). Still, I doubt there is a good reason why "I am fitted/suited (by this hat)" is ungrammatical, while "This is known (by me)" is fine.

  • 'A good time was had by all' vs *'A good laugh was had by all present'. Commented May 3, 2018 at 8:43

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