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The passive of a. is b. but not c.

a. I took care of them.

b. They were taken care of by me.

c. ?Care was taken of them by me.

But it becomes complicated when 'care' has a premodifier such as

good/great/sufficient/enough/not enough/little, etc.

Let's just label these premodifier as PM. Then, we can have either f. or g. or both(?) as the passive counterpart of e.

e. I took PM care of them.

f. They were taken PM care of by me. ['...PM taken care...' was a typo]

g. PM care was taken of them by me.

One thing I observe is that when PM is 'good', f. works better than g., but that for all the other PMs, it's the other way around.

Is there any truth to this observation of mine? Or is there any other pattern that treats these PMs differently than I suggested?

In either case, why do you treat the constructions f. and g. differently depending on what the PM is?

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  • 1
    You can't say "They were taken not enough care of", but "They were not taken enough care of" is possible (though an unlikely sentence for anyone to use.) – Kate Bunting Jul 21 '19 at 7:50
  • There are overlapping issues with the initial example sentence. (b) 'They were taken care of [by A]' is certainly the accepted 'deagentified' / 'agentified' passive of 'A took care of them' , but 'They were taken care of by me' sounds an unnatural passivisation of 'I took care of them' unless emphasis is involved. Perhaps a switch to the general third person, or 'Jan' say, would help. Again, 'They were taken care of by the Agency' (and the active form) probably defaults to 'The Agency handled their situation / enquiry ...' rather than 'The Agency 'nurtured' them'. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 21 '19 at 10:02
  • I'd say that f1. They were taken good care of by me sounds outlandish and, I'd say, is ungrammatical, and I'm happy to see that there are no Google hits for the candidate sentence. g1 Good care was taken of them by me is doubtless grammatical, but sounds contrived and heading towards unnatural; again, there are no Google hits (as of now). Great care was taken of them by the Animal Rights people is, I'd say, idiomatic (though you'd probably have to search through a few agents before getting a hit). They were taken great care of by the Animal Rights people is again unacceptable. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 21 '19 at 10:10
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Note: This answer was based on the example sentence f. originally having a different word order. The question itself has since been updated.

Google Books NGram Viewer, when comparing taken good care of and good care was taken of, at least suggests that f., is the far more common phrasing in print.

taken good care of

If the modifier from good to great, the difference becomes far less pronounced.

taken great care of

But though the gap between the two is much smaller with great, the X care was taken form remains at the same low level of occurrence.

If I replace good with enough, only taken enough care of appearsenough care was taken of doesn't have enough hits to appear on the graph at all.

taken enough care of

Finally, if I replace good with little, the reverse pattern is seen. With little, little enough care was taken of is actually the more common.

little care was taken of

The general trend seems to be that taken X care of is more common than X care was taken of. However, that's not true of every modifying word. Still, it's not the case that good is the exception to the pattern; in fact, it seems to fit into the more common pattern.

Why some words change the commonness of the overall pattern, or even why the overall pattern exists, may be a matter of speculation.


My answer to the original version of the question.

Your use of the modifier in f. isn't in a normal position.

When you use such a modifier, it goes directly in front of what it modifies. I'll use good as an actual example.

We use good care, with the one word directly in front the other, and nothing intervening.

Therefore, you wouldn't normally see, as in the question:

f. ✘ They were good taken care of by me.

In fact, that's so unidiomatic as to be essentially ungrammatical.

Instead, you would say this:

f. ✔ They were taken good care of by me.

Compare that version to g:

g. ✔ Good care was taken of them by me.


With the corrected version of f., I'd say it's no longer obviously inferior to g.

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  • It was a typo. I'm really sorry about that. Now I have edited to correct the typo. – listeneva Jul 21 '19 at 6:39
  • @listeneva I've updated my answer to account for the revised information. – Jason Bassford Jul 21 '19 at 7:13
  • @Jason, this is now out of date: Therefore, you wouldn't normally see, as in the question: f. ✘ They were good taken care of by me. In fact, that's so unidiomatic as to be essentially ungrammatical. – marcellothearcane Jul 21 '19 at 7:23
  • Don't your blue graphs also include the perfect construction "have + taken + PM + care of"? – listeneva Jul 21 '19 at 9:26
  • I'm not sure but once an OP edits and admits to a typo, why keep the part that is no longer relevant to the question? Visitors will have to look at the edit history to understand where the error lied. Wouldn't it be best to delete the original answer leaving only the updated version? – Mari-Lou A Jul 21 '19 at 12:15

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