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Why do we say "Ten people tested positive today"?

Shouldn’t it be "Ten people were tested positive today" as the lab technicians are testing the samples?

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    The verb "test" can be used in the both forms of transitive and intransitive. – Cardinal May 31 at 1:10
  • This is actually an excellent question. (1) ✔ Ten people tested today. (2) ✔ Ten people tested positive today. (3) ✔ Ten people were tested today. (4) ✘ Ten people were tested positive today. (5) ✔ Ten people will test tomorrow. (6) ✔ Ten people will test positive tomorrow. On the face of it, there is no reason why (4) should be wrong. It follows from all of the other tenses and constructions that it should be fine. But it isn't. I suspect this has something to do with simple idiomatic usage where, against logic, we just don't use that specific tense and construction. – Jason Bassford May 31 at 2:36
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It could be because the use of the passive voice for the second sentence reduces clarity slightly and takes emphasis off of the subject of the sentence. If someone says

Ten people tested positive today.

The emphasis is on the subject since the sentence is in the active voice. If someone says

Ten people were tested positive today.

The use of the passive voice has the effect of placing emphasis on the action of testing (since the sentence agent is missing), which may be more desirable in scientific or clinical writing to create the appearance of an objective, fact-based discourse.

I believe that sentences like "Ten people tested positive today." are more common in everyday speech because speakers wish to place emphasis on the people who were tested positive, not on the action of testing or the unspoken agent of the testing (the laboratory technicians). As Jason Bassford suggested, this has probably has more to do with the nuances of idiomatic usage rather than formal grammar rules.

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