Given the active voice is

We haven't paid any attention to that problem.

Should the passive construction be

That problem hasn't been paid any attention.

That problem hasn't been paid any attention to.

A search in Google Books has many hits on both sides, many of which authored by apparently non-native speakers. Be that as it may, there are also a lot of native speakers that use either one, e.g.:

The American president, Jones said, wanted Karzai to understand "that in his second term, there are certain things that have not been paid attention to, almost since Day One." (book by Lloyd Gardner)

These "group" differences are a critically important part of learning and have not been paid enough attention in thinking about pedagogy. (book)

  • Personally, as a native I think both work – L Smith Apr 11 '18 at 23:15

What we normally do when we want to front the subject of the attention is to change the verb from pay to receive, as this NGram shows. The more natural way of expressing this would therefore be:

That problem hasn't received any attention

If you do use pay, the situation is similar to

1) I paid the money to the staff - active with to
2) I paid the staff the money - active
3) The money was paid to the staff - passive with to
4) The staff were paid the money. - passive

In this example, you passivize 1 to 3, and 2 to 4. Note that, in the passive voice version where you front the indirect object the staff, the to disappears.

In your example, you have done the equivalent of passivizing 1 to 4. The question is, would version 2 of your sentence be valid? Is it possible in an active-voice sentence to position that problem next to the verb, without to?

We haven't paid that problem any attention

As this NGram shows, the answer is, yes: but it is a lot less common than the version with to.

  • +1 This is a great answer. It clarifies many issues related to my question. So your conclusion is my example in the format of 4 is the more natural version? – Eddie Kal Apr 12 '18 at 21:44
  • "That problem hasn't been paid any attention." is both grammatically correct and the most natural of the two options that you proposed. Note, though that the first NGram in my answer shows that sentences similar to "That problem hasn't received any attention." are probably ten times more widely used. – JavaLatte Apr 13 '18 at 2:23

Your query raises the question of whether it's allowable:

To pay a problem attention

where you mean: to pay attention to a problem

as in Give him the book (instead of Give the book to him) where the direct object is the book and him is the indirect object even though it follows directly on the verb.

The construction is unusual and I haven't come across English speakers using it although you unarguably illustrate it.

I think that both your examples are valid if rather unusual and that the question is more about usage and idiom than grammar. Would people speak like that? Obviously, some do!

  • It seems that we do are more likely to put the indirect object next to the verb when there is any before attention. For example, "don't pay him any attention**. books.google.com/ngrams/… – JavaLatte Apr 14 '18 at 3:22

That problem hasn't been paid any attention.


That problem hasn't been paid any attention to.

This doesn't sound fluent to me.

If you want to use the preposition to and keep the passive voice, you can turn things around:

Attention hasn't been paid to the problem.

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