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What would the passive voice for an imperative sentence, for, for example, -

Open the door

be?

I think it can be either

The door must be opened by you

or

Let the door be opened

and I can't decide which one.

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    Why do you want to say this? "Let the door be opened" is grammatical but sounds ridiculous outside of the sort of movies where Charlton Heston plays an Old Testament hero. There's almost certainly a better way of phrasing it in English if you're translating a passive imperative from another language. So maybe you should explain why you need the passive imperative. If you're doing this for school, presumably they have told you how to do it.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 16 at 15:19
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    Passivisation doesn't just paraphrase an active-voice sentence using a passive structure, it follows a set pattern. I believe that 'Let the door be opened [by you]' is what is termed by some (but not all) the 'passive imperative' transform of '[You] open the door.' It is related to the well-known cohortative ('Let us V') construction. But as Stuart says, this transformation, whatever it is called, is usually best avoided. Try it with 'Stop shouting!'! // 'Magic may '(May your vineyards always be fruitful') is related. Commented Feb 16 at 15:59
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    As the above comments explain, in the context of a school exercise, 'Let the door be opened' will probably be marked as correct, but using it in real life will rarely work well. 'The door must be opened by you' could be used to convey something like 'If and when the time comes for the door to be opened, it must not be opened by anybody but you', which is somewhat different from the plain 'open the door!'. There probably isn't much else to be said about the matter.
    – jsw29
    Commented Feb 16 at 19:02
  • In "The door must be opened by you", the verb ("be") is in the indicative mood, and in "Let the door be opened" it's in the subjunctive mood, so I don't see how either of them can be an imperative (as oppsed to a mere order).
    – Tevildo
    Commented Feb 16 at 21:25
  • @Tevildo Oh, I think must be is the deontic mood, not the indicative mood. When be is used in the indicative, it inflects for person, number, and tense. This is a modal verb so be is not inflected at all.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 18 at 2:14

4 Answers 4

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You can’t convert an imperative construction into the passive voice. There’s no syntactic agent/subject to demote.* And even if there were (Someone open the door!), there’s not an inflected verb present to direct an auxiliary be.

That leaves you with periphrastic, non-passive workarounds that might not convey the original directive and might even be nonsense:

The door must be opened [by you]. --> If the door is opened, it must be opened by you.

Let the door be opened [by you]. --> ?Allow the door to be opened [by you].

Any passive imperatives we have are born that way; they don’t have active counterparts:

Don’t be deceived [by appearances].
Get your paper reviewed [by an expert].
Don’t be fooled again.
Let your smile be seen.

*cf. Passive imperatives in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, pp. 932–3: Because the agentive role is associated with subject function, passive imperatives are relatively infrequent. This reflects the fact that in declaratives whose predicate assigns an agentive role to one of the arguments[,] the argument concerned is aligned with the subject of the active, not the passive. Passive imperatives are not ungrammatical, however, for the imperative construction can itself . . . confer agentivity on a subject that is not assigned an agentive role by the predicate:
[28] . . . i Don’t be intimidated. (“Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated”) . . .

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  • Strictly speaking, "Be opened, door!" might (kind of) count. Of course, we don't usually give commands to inanimate objects.
    – alphabet
    Commented Feb 17 at 22:47
  • @alphabet — Count as what? Commented Feb 17 at 22:54
  • As some poorer grammars use the term 'passive imperative', corroboration of the first two sentences by a respected grammar should be given. Commented Feb 17 at 22:59
  • @TinfoilHat Count as the "passive equivalent" of OP's sentence.
    – alphabet
    Commented Feb 17 at 23:03
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    @alphabet — I don’t see how Open the door could be addressing the door. Commented Feb 17 at 23:07
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In a comment, Edwin Ashworth wrote:

Passivisation doesn't just paraphrase an active-voice sentence using a passive structure, it follows a set pattern. I believe that 'Let the door be opened [by you]' is what is termed by some (but not all) the 'passive imperative' transform of '[You] open the door.' It is related to the well-known cohortative ('Let us V') construction. But as Stuart says, this transformation, whatever it is called, is usually best avoided. Try it with 'Stop shouting!'! // 'Magic may '(May your vineyards always be fruitful') is related.

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In a comment, jsw29 wrote:

As the above comments explain, in the context of a school exercise, 'Let the door be opened' will probably be marked as correct, but using it in real life will rarely work well. 'The door must be opened by you' could be used to convey something like 'If and when the time comes for the door to be opened, it must not be opened by anybody but you', which is somewhat different from the plain 'open the door!'. There probably isn't much else to be said about the matter.

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  • The “else” to be said about the matter is that imperatives can employ the passive voice. Commented Feb 18 at 2:38
  • @Tinfoil Hat Of course, there can be a passive construction in an imperative sentence. 'Make sure the door is locked after you when you leave.' But only if you tinker with the usual definition of 'passivise' can you passivise 'Lock the door!' Commented Feb 18 at 22:51
  • @EdwinAshworth — Yes, see my answer. Commented Feb 18 at 23:15
  • @Tinfoil Hat 'Imperatives can employ the passive voice' is hardly clear. Commented Feb 19 at 12:46
  • @EdwinAshworth — Do you mean my comment was unclear? I provided examples in my answer (where I also added the respected grammar source you requested). Commented Feb 19 at 16:34
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It's

Be opened!

This is rare because inanimate objects are seldom addressed with commands.

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    No. Passive transforms of sentences are paraphrases of the active sentence (or arguable 'Let ...' constructions). Here, the addressee is no longer the person ordered to open the door in the active (but either the door, as you say, or the fabric of the universe). Commented Feb 18 at 16:21
  • @EdwinAshworth The nature of the passive voice is to change the subject.
    – Mary
    Commented Feb 18 at 16:25
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    But passivisation doesn't just paraphrase an active-voice sentence using a passive structure, it follows a set pattern. It-clefting arguably 'changes the subject': 'It was this government that ruled France until 1776'. Commented Feb 18 at 16:52
  • @EdwinAshworth That's the use of a linking verb, not passive voice. Plus a clause in the active voice. To put that in the passive voice, "It was France that was ruled by this government until 1776."
    – Mary
    Commented Feb 18 at 17:34
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    An active-to-passive voice conversion changes the syntactic subject of the sentence, but the agent — the doer — remains the same: I opened the door. The door was opened [by me]. This can’t be done with an imperative. Commented Feb 19 at 5:24

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