I looked up in this online dictionary for the word, endeavour,

but the example sentence even made me more confused.

Here is the example sentence:

In spite of our best endeavours, it has proven impossible to contact her.

Who has proved that it is impossible to contact her? Either her family or some rescue team, isn't it? So, I am wondering why it is not

In spite of our best endeavours, it has been proven impossible to contact her.

Please help me. I am trying very hard to understand why the example sentence given by the online dictionary is grammatical.


4 Answers 4


The it in the sentence is just the dummy it. An English sentence has to have a subject, but sometimes there's no obvious subject for a sentence, so we use it to stand for the existence or nature of something, like

It is raining

What's raining? Nothing, really, just "it". Or

It is hard to find good bread in this city

Again, "it" doesn't really stand for anything except a vague reference to "the way things are".

In your example, It has proven difficult to find her, nothing in particular has proven the fact, the "it" just refers to the way things are. You could rephrase the sentence as

Finding her has proved difficult

which makes the phrase finding her the explicit subject.

  • 1
    And it's the passive voice too, I think, right? If that helps.
    – John
    Jan 6, 2017 at 17:33
  • @John - It has proven difficult isn't actually the passive voice; it's a regular active-voice sentence, with It as the subject and has proven as the verb (in present perfect), just like "He has eaten well" is an active sentence. Passive would be "It has been proven", because the passive requires a form of to be. A simple way to tell if something is in the passive is to add "...by bears" to the end and see if it still makes sense. In this case, does It has proven difficult to find her by bears make sense? No, so it's not in the passive voice.
    – stangdon
    Jan 6, 2017 at 18:38

There are multiple senses of the verb to prove. In the example sentence, the following form is used (from Oxford Dictionaries):


2.1 [no object, with complement] Been seen or found to be:
"the scheme has proved a great success"

Note that proved and proven are the same – using one or the other is a stylistic choice of the author.

However, the usage of to prove in the sentence you've suggested is the following sense:

2 [with object and complement] Demonstrate to be the specified thing by evidence or argument:
"if they are proved guilty we won't trade with them"

  • The "no object, with complement" note in the cited definition means that this use of "to prove" is copular, not transitive. The grammar of "it has proven impossible" is the same as that of "it has seemed impossible", "it has become impossible" and "it has been impossible". Jan 6, 2017 at 16:43

proved (to be) = turned out to be

The verb refers to the now known outcome.

The party turned out to be a lot of fun. We thought it was going to be dull.

The party proved to be a lot of fun. It wasn't boring, as we had feared.

The ice hockey game on the neighborhood pond proved impossible because the weather warmed up and the ice melted.


"it has proven impossible" is a stock phrase. It's a passive voice construction for saying "we couldn't do it".

Similarly, "it has proven difficult" = "we had a hard time doing it".

It's used a lot in business jargon as an excuse, or a way to make something seem more meaningful or important than it really is. "It has proven impossible to contact her" could mean anything from "we couldn't find her phone number" to "she never returns our voicemails" to "she disappeared near the North Pole without a trace".

Your suggestion of "it has been proven impossible" is something you'd read in a mathematics paper, not for an everyday-life situation.

Prove (MW, see the section for English Language learners)

to turn out to be

  • 2
    Per my comment link under the question itself, proven is definitely not part of any such "stock phrase", regardless of whether we accept that designation for the proved version. Jan 6, 2017 at 16:16

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