In the following sentence, is the verb refer can be used in both way as "referring " and "referred"? For me , when is "referred" used as if people refer it. On the other hand if "referring " is used , the verb is used in active voice; the subject "meaning" refers to something itself.

The term spam have developed a negative meaning ........to abusive use of electronic communications.

1 Answer 1


The term 'spam' has developed a negative meaning referring to abusive use of electronic communications.

As you suggest, the meaning is the subject of "refer", so it needs an active participle "referring" not a passive one "referred".

You could say "used to refer to abusive use use of electronic communication" (ignoring the awkward repetition of "use") - the 'refer' is still active, but to get the sense that people are doing the use, you use "used" in the ppl. Bt the only thing "referred to" is the abusive use, so you really don't want a passive form of "refer".

  • Is there any way to use it in passive voice such as " the word had a meaning (which was) referred by cultured people to uneducated people who live in outside the urban sprawl"
    – Mrt
    Feb 9, 2017 at 21:22
  • Yes, @Mrt, with 'as'. 'Refer' in this sense is a relationship between the word or label and the thing it refers to - the person using it doesn't come into the meaning; so you can't bring the person into it in the passive. ie "X (word) refers to Y (concept)" -> "Y is referred to by X". There is a different sense of "refer" involving the person making the reference and the thing referred to; there the symbol or word is not part of the meaning, but can be brought in with "as".. So "X (person) refers to Y (concept) as Z" -> Y is referred to by X as Z". Or just "Y is referred to as Z"
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 9, 2017 at 21:36
  • Of course in the form with "as" you can't make Z the subject, which I think is what you are wanting.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 9, 2017 at 21:42
  • In my examples I tried to use the word "meaning" as object of the relative clause.
    – Mrt
    Feb 9, 2017 at 21:58

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