My question is in continuation to this question : Is there a passive construction for 'I have a pen.' Wherein it is said that no passive possible for 'I have a pen' since it has 'have' as transitive verb. But then there are other sentences like 'There is a book to read' which has passive form : 'There is a book to be read'. Please enlighten me.

  • I think you might have misunderstood the answer to the older question. It isn't that there is no passive possible for "I have a pen", it's just the passive sounds very strange and awkward with to have and we almost never use it. Also, I don't think "There is a book to be read" is actually in the passive voice, because "a book" is not the object of the sentence "There is a book"; you can't make "there is" sentences passive.
    – stangdon
    Oct 7, 2017 at 19:05
  • The fact that we can’t passivise is a lexical property of “have”: there are a fair number of exceptions to passivisation (cf. “John would like them to help him”, but not *"Them to help him John would like"). In your 'book' example, it is just the subordinate clause ("to read") that is passive, not the matrix clause.
    – BillJ
    Oct 7, 2017 at 19:15
  • @stangdon, yes I misunderstood the answer, thanks for the clarification. And I think the passivisation of 'I have a pen to write', is not possible (or not preferred) because 'to write' is object complement of the object 'pen' where 'have' forms the verb but not the action verb which is precisely the requirement for passiviasation. Whereas in case of 'There is a book to read' can be passivised into 'There is a book to be read' (I read it in a Grammar book) is probably because 'book' here forms object part and 'to read' is an action verb.
    – shark20
    Oct 8, 2017 at 16:17
  • @shark20 No: "to write" is not an object complement. It is not possible for an infinitival clause to function as an object complement. And in "There is a book to be read", it is only the subordinate clause "to be read" that is passive, not the matrix clause -- there is no matrix clause object. "To be read" is an infinitival relative clause modifying "book".
    – BillJ
    Oct 8, 2017 at 19:05
  • @BillJ let me give you another example, passive of "I asked him to read" should be "He was asked to read" right? It means "him" is object and "asked" is the action verb here. But what is "to read" if not the object complement? P.S. English isn't my native language. :)
    – shark20
    Oct 9, 2017 at 6:11

3 Answers 3


The passive construction of

I have a pen to write.


A pen to write is had by me.

But this sounds extremely weird and ungraceful.

Tools, instruments are generally not things that can have (they are had). Things you can possess are not things that can typically "possess back" - and if they can, have is the wrong word.

Really the only common and non-jarring use of passive have are meanings like have fun, and then only if the subject is not definite.

All had fun.

Fun was had by all.

But fun was had by me sounds equally weird (you could say fun was had by me only, though).


I would say there is a nuance of difference between

There is a book to read


There is a book to be read

The former is of interest, the latter is necessary. So in the general sense it is not passive, but almost imperative.

  • Yes, although if I say "I have a hundred leaflets to deliver" / "I have a hundred leaflets to be delivered", then both describe something that is necessary (or at least something that is supposed to be done). The nuance then becomes the hint (in the passive) that someone else might deliver them on my behalf (which could also be true of the active subordinate clause, but is a less likely interpretation). Or "I have a book to read by Thursday" / "I have a book to be read by Thursday" - again both versions of the sentence describe an obligation.
    – rjpond
    Oct 7, 2017 at 19:57
  • @rjpond a nice point, but although one can get another to deliver leaflets, the analogy does not work well when someone else reads a book on your behalf. The recipient of the information in the book, the leaflet, is not the same. Oct 7, 2017 at 21:18

I think the most idiomatic passive voice of "I have a pen to write" would be "There is a pen to write with".

  • 1
    There is a pen to write with isn't passive, unfortunately.
    – user230
    Oct 8, 2017 at 14:40

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