Recently I came across a phrase that sounds wrong to me as a native speaker (New Zealand English), but I can't find a rule that explains whether this is correct or not.

"The submitted build was passed."

The context of this statement is in submitting code to a build server, which runs tests on the code and the outcome is a pass or a fail.

I naturally want to correct it to "the submitted build passed", or "the submitted build has passed".

I know that "he was passed by another pedestrian" is correct, but I don't understand what about the above sentence makes me think it is incorrect.

Is this correct English? Which rule explains why it is correct or incorrect?

  • It’s a passive construction of what I would say is an unaccusative verb, which I agree doesn’t really make sense. “The law was passed by the assembly” just about makes sense (here pass means ratify or similar), but who ‘passes’ a build? Ultimately, whether a verb can function unaccusatively or transitively, and in what sense(s), is just a property of that particular verb – I don’t think there are any ‘rules’ that determine it. It may be that pass in this sense does function as a transitive verb to some. Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 9:39
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    @JanusBahsJacquet the continuous integration environment passes a build (i.e. runs all the tests). She is queen of her domain. By royal assent doth the build pass into production. Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 9:41
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - ??? "but who ‘passes’ a build". It is absolutely identical to your "law was passed" example. You submit a build to the programming team; the team "pass" it - exactly as in your law/assembly example. (In some cases, the "robot" also approves/passes it.) BTW Thank goodness there is someone on here who is not a programmer :/
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 11:33
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    @Fattie Well, if you submit it to an actual team, then yes, they pass it (or more commonly, they approve it); but that's not the case here. To a certain extent, the build server which runs the tests also ‘passes’ the build here, but seeing it as an actual agent is anthropomorphising it more than most people would normally do. It is far more common to see the unaccusative construction “The build (has) passed”, in the same way that you almost never hear phrases like “She was passed/failed” when referring to exams, but always “She passed/failed (her exam)”. Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 11:38
  • Hi @JanusBahsJacquet - for the first time ever, I totally fail to understand what you're saying :) Are you drunk? :) (1) Simple fact: regarding the specific question, it is totally commonplace - in computing - to say the actual literal words "the build passed" also "that build was passed 10 minutes ago" or perhaps "last night's build was passed just now". It is totally idiomatic, commonplace, and normal usage in computing. (2) I'm totally confused by your comment that "the law was passed" as you say "just about" makes sense: "the law was passed" is a commonplace phrase!
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 11:42

2 Answers 2


As a fellow NZ English speaker that looks OK to me. The build was submitted to a system to be tested, and that system gave it a pass mark as a result of the testing.

A more wordy way to say it would be

The submitted build was passed by the test system


The submitted build was given a passing mark by the test system


Here "pass" means precisely "ratify" or "approve".

This meaning of "pass" in computing (ie, "approve", "ratify") is absolutely commonplace in computing.

“The law was passed by the assembly” - for example - is a totally normal, commonplace sentence. "The build was passed by the server" is a totally notmal, commonplace sentence.

There is perhaps some confusion about the past tense of "was"?

When a build gets passed by, say, Apple's TestFlight cloud servers it can only be .. in the past, if you see what I mean. Because it's an instantaneous process. (There's an annoying delay before it happens, then it happens "straight away" - it can't really "be happening".) Perhaps for that reason it's totally normal to talk about it in the past - "phew, it took three hours but the build was finally passed by TestFlight". "The build was passed at last, hooray!"

  • Cross-posting with my comment above, “the brakes passed” and “the student passed” are examples of the unaccusative construction, which the asker (and I) would expect to find. “The brakes were passed” and “the student was passed” would be passive constructions equivalent to the one in the question, and they sound just as unusual to me. Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 11:40
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - you're right, those last two examples don't include the "was" as per the discussion here; my bad.
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 11:43

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