When we say Two men were seen running after robbing the bank" it isn't like any ordinary sentence like "My wallet was stolen" or "The Mona Lisa was painted by Da Vinci". Like "She was made to work overtime"

Why? When we have two verbs in the sentence which one to modify?

  • 1
    It's not clear what you're asking. Why do you think "Two men were seen running after robbing the bank" is different than "My wallet was stolen"?
    – Juhasz
    Oct 24, 2018 at 14:41
  • The sentence, "Two men were seen running after robbing the bank," isn't in passive voice either. Do you intend to turn that sentence into a passive voice sentence?
    – AnonyTech
    Oct 24, 2018 at 14:46
  • 1
    Constructions like I brushed my teeth after getting up have no connection to "passive" usages. In fact, I suspect it's impossible to converts such things to passive voice. Although it would be a bit weird, you could "validly" say The teeth were brushed (by someone unspecified), but I suspect an adverbial / participial element like after getting up syntactically requires that the "subject" be explicitly specified somewhere within the same utterance. Oct 24, 2018 at 14:52
  • 4
    @AnonyTech "two men were seen" isn't that passive?
    – djna
    Oct 24, 2018 at 15:03
  • 3
    @AnonyTech That's not correct. Passive voice makes the patient of a verb the grammatical subject - the men are the patient of the verb "to see", and "running after robbing the bank" is a complement to what would have been the object in active voice ("They saw two men running after robbing the bank.")
    – Alan T.
    Oct 24, 2018 at 16:33

2 Answers 2


Your question isn’t entirely clear, but I believe you are asking about the verb forms. I’ll explain this sentence with that in mind:

“Two men were seen running after robbing the bank”


“Were seen” is the only verb phrase in this sentence. So conjugate this verb as you would conjugate a passive voice verb. “(Be) (past participle)” makes it “Were seen.”


“Were seen” is the simple past tense passive voice form of “seen.” You seem to be familiar with passive voice, but for anyone who isn’t, I’ve linked an answer that explains it below. (1). This clause means “(Someone/something) saw the two men.”

“Running” is the present participle of “to run.” Present participles act as adjectives. The sentence now means “(Someone/something) saw that two men were running.” More present participle examples:

  1. “I see Jack eating” = “I see Jack; he is eating”
  2. “Panting, Usain sees the finish line approaching” = “Usain, who is panting, sees that the finish line is coming closer”

The entire sentence could work as “Two men were seen running.” But we don’t know when they were seen.

“After robbing the bank” tells us what time it is. This entire phrase is essentially an adverb telling us what time they were seen (it is technically a prepositional phrase). (2), (3).

“Robbing” in the above phrase is a gerund, which means it acts like a noun. It replaces the words “they rob/robbed/will rob” The sentence now means “(Someone/something) saw that two men were running, and this was after they robbed the bank.”

I hope this helped. Leave any questions in the comments


(1) Passive Voice Answer

(2) “Telling” in this sentence is a present participle meaning “that tells.” It’s the same for “meaning” in the previous sentence.

(3) Fun fact: “run after” can also be a phrasal verb that means “chase.” E.g., “I am running after my dreams!”


When there are two verbs, it should be made clear who is the subject and object of both actions, else it lacks ideal clarity. Here, the men are presumed to be the same that robbed the bank, and the seen is not attributed to an observer, which is an slightly improper enunciation of an observation.

It is not an ideally clear sentence, and it sounds like an ad-lib report, like a news report, written hastily in informal English, it sounds like a summary of a phrase, rather than a clear phrase.

"seen by whom? where? doing what? running? climbing?"

Generally, if a phrase lacks clarification, it sounds like a quoted and spoken phase, rather than a clearly written narrative.

It's out of context, the rest of the phrase may give it some clarity. On it's own, it's a bit unclear.

  • 2
    Part of the incompleteness you mention (... the seen is not attributed to an observer) is because the passive voice does not require the do-er of the action (the seeing) to be specified. That is the way the passive voice works. It does not make it an unclear sentence, or an informal one, and it doesn't have anything to do with whether it is written or spoken.
    – Lorel C.
    Oct 15, 2019 at 15:11

You must log in to answer this question.

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