I have never seen any use of 'passive voice' in a conditional sentence before.

I was reading a story book and found one of the story characters saying,

What would have happened if the bridge had broken.

Is this sentence grammatically correct? A bridge cannot break itself, it gets broken. So shouldn’t it be,

What would have happened if the bridge had been broken.


"Break" has both a transitive and intransitive meaning.

My computer broke while I was trying to write my paper

is perfectly idiomatic and grammatical.

We tend to use the verb transitively when the cause of the breakage is known. We tend to use the verb intransitively when the cause is unknown.

It is, however, odd to use "break" with something as massive as a bridge. We tend to use "fall" or "collapse,"

London Bridge is falling down

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed in 1940.

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The "had broken" form may have a different meaning to the "had been broken." It depends on the rest of the story.

What would have happened if the bridge had broken while we were crossing it?

This means that the person is concerned for the possibility the bridge might have failed when he was on it. Maybe the story is about some rickety rope-and-plank bridge like in many adventure movies, with crocodiles and piranha waiting in the river.

What would have happened if the bridge had been broken when we came to it?

This means he is concerned that he might not have been able to begin crossing.

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