With awakened being a transitive verb requiring a direct object, in the sentence

He was awakened by a loud crash.

is “he” both the direct object and the subject of the sentence?

The sentence was given in this answer as an example of “awakened” as a transitive verb with a direct object. When I looked at it, as if to conjugate, I saw "he" as the subject, so not a direct object, but passive.


3 Answers 3


The question has some false presuppositions, which lead to confusion.

To start with,

With awakened being a transitive verb requiring a direct object

is not true. Awaken is a causative/inchoative verb, meaning either come to be awake (inchoative)

  • He slowly awakened, dimly aware of the smoke in the air.
    (this is less likely than simple past awoke, but still grammatical)

or cause to come to be awake (causative).

  • The smoke in the air slowly awakened him.
    (again, woke is more likely)

Only the causative is transitive, and therefore only the causative can be passivized.

  • He was slowly awakened by the smoke in the air.

Second, no word can be both the subject and the object of a clause unless it's repeated or reflexive

  • Bill saw Bill in the mirror.
  • Bill saw himself in the mirror.
  • *Bill saw in the mirror.
  • *Saw Bill in the mirror.

What you appear to be asking about is the Passive construction.

The Passive changes the subject and object specifications for a clause. In the original transitive clause, there is a subject NP (call it A) and an object NP (call it B). In the Passive transformation of the clause, B becomes the transformed subject NP and A is either deleted (most of the time) or stuck at the end in an agent by phrase (occasionally), viz:

  • Bill saw Mary in the mirror. (Original: Subj =Bill = A; DO = Mary = B)
  • Mary was seen in the mirror. (Passive: Subj = Mary = B; A deleted)
  • Mary was seen in the mirror by Bill. (Passive: Subj = Mary = B; A in by-phrase)

The mistake is in thinking of a phrase as always being the subject or the object of a clause, even when the clause is transformed.

Grammatical relations like "subject" and "object" are likely to change under transformations, whereas semantic relations (like "agent", "patient", or "receiver") don't change under transformations. And Passive is a transformation that always changes grammatical relations.


In passive constructions, the grammatical subject of the sentence (here, he) is the entity acted upon, not the entity doing the action.

He was awakened by a loud noise. passive

A loud noise awakened him. active

When awaken is transitive it means "to cause someone to become awake". You can awaken a sleeping person.

  • Yes, I agree. The original question was asked because of an answer on this site stating awaken is transitive requiring an object and then using he was awakened as an example to support that.
    – Bob
    Jun 9, 2018 at 23:19
  • @Bob: I don't think StoneyB was calling he the subject there, but simply presenting various transitive uses (one of them in a passive construction). Passive constructions can only be formed with transitive verbs.
    – TimR
    Jun 10, 2018 at 8:51
  • @Tromano. StoneyB didn’t call he the subject, but it has to be the subject. It was stated that it requires a direct object, but there isn’t one. I agree with joiedevivre that using passive construction to illustrate the statement made about awaken makes it harder to understand.
    – Bob
    Jun 10, 2018 at 18:11
  • @Bob: What is it in your "makes it harder to understand"? Transitivity? And that transitive verbs have a direct object?
    – TimR
    Jun 11, 2018 at 9:17

Awaken can be used either transitively or intransitively.

In passive voice, transitive verbs can be used without a direct object, because the thing the verb acts upon becomes the subject. Note, however, that as John Lawler pointed out in the comments, sometimes the indirect object can become the subject, in which case the verb will still take a direct object.

However, only transitive verbs can be converted to passive voice, which means that, even though they may no longer be shown with a direct object in passive voice, verbs that are used in passive voice are always transitive.

Edit: I have to walk back my statement somewhat. Sometimes the object of a preposition can also be used as the subject in passive constructions, and then intransitive verbs can be in the passive voice, too. For example, the verb to laugh is always intransitive, but it's possible to use it in a passive construction, as follows:

Active: Everyone laughed at him.
Passive: He was laughed at.

When an intransitive verb is used in a passive construction, it will be followed by a preposition. When a transitive verb in used in a passive construction, it won't.

In the end, though, if you're trying to illustrate a point about transitivity, I would generally suggest not illustrating it with an example in passive voice. I think it makes it much harder to understand.

  • 1
    Oh, some do. He was given the medal by the President is a passive sentence with a subject (he) and a direct object (the medal). This is only possible because give allows the Dative Alternation, which relates The President gave him the medal to The President gave a medal to him. It's possible to passivize either of these equivalent sentences, with different results. Jun 9, 2018 at 18:43
  • 1
    @JohnLawler Very true! I edited the answer to reflect this. Jun 9, 2018 at 18:49
  • 1
    @joiedevivre Exactly...it was the illustration of transitivity but in passive voice that was unclear to me. Thank you.
    – Bob
    Jun 10, 2018 at 1:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .