As you can see from these examples the verb 'biodegrade' is intransitive (it no longer requires direct object = who is going to biodegrade something)

I feel like using this verb as 'passive voice structure' like in all these examples


For me this sentence (most plastics will not biodegrade in landfill sites) sounds odd, it feels like passive voice should have been used (most plastics will not BE biodegradeD in landfill sites), but I trust Oxford, is it some kind of exception?

  • 1
    You might want to take a look at the many questions here tagged middle-voice, which deal with what are sometimes called labile verbs: verbs which are deployed both as transitives, with an Agent carrying out an action on a Patient, and as intransitives, with the Patient cast as the active Subject. Most such verbs, like biodegrade, designated changes of state, externally caused in the transitive use and attributed in the intransitive use. Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 1:57

1 Answer 1


Outside of scientific journals, you're more likely to hear biodegrade as an intransitive verb:

Everyone knows those plastic supermarket bags don't biodegrade, and end up in our rivers and oceans, but we use them anyway.

The nice thing about this cleanser is that it naturally biodegrades in water, so you don't have to worry about problems with the environment.

Also common is the adjective biodegradable.

Even though they are more expensive, the concert concessions stands will use only biodegradable cups for beverages.

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    Outside of technical contexts, I think biodegradable is far more commonly used. "plastic supermarket bags aren't biodegradable" and "is that it is naturally biodegradable in water".
    – user3169
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 2:20
  • @user3169 Yes, I agree.
    – Andrew
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 5:38

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