I know this sounds like an impressively easy answer but here's the problem.

I am in a pickle due to grammar and I can't for the life of me find my answer anywhere online.

I have had a friend make the claim that saying:

I worked on experimenting new things within a company.

is the same (just different semantics) as saying

Experiments were performed on me within a company.

I know there's a proper term for this where one is an active voice, doing something and the other is a passive voice, having something done to you but I don't know what specifically it is called so I can't look up the proper terminology or lesson to teach why the two scenarios are extremely different and depressingly enough it's putting a strain on a friendship of mine.

I just want to know what is grammatically correct and I need it explained in simple terms to someone who is not an English major.

  • 2
    To start with, " I worked on experimenting new things" is incorrect and largely meaningless. How to correct it depends on exactly what you are trying to convey.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 8:47
  • the person in question is trying to convey that their job entailed them testing out new equipment for a company but whenever they talk about it, they insist on saying "I was experimented on" because he was given a subject number when he was doing the testing. Someone tried telling them that what they were saying was incorrect and was a lie but they insist it's just semantics and that it works
    – Alice Smith
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 8:57
  • Experiments were performed BY me...
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 11:31
  • "is the same (just different semantics)" – I am confused. "semantics" means "meaning", i.e. the actual "content" of the utterance. So, when you say they have "different semantics", what you are saying is that they mean different things. Which is the exact opposite of "being the same". The term "it's just semantics" makes no sense: semantics is ultimately what it's all about, so saying it is "just" semantics is non-sensical: semantics is what is most important. Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 20:09

2 Answers 2


Both the examples below are in the passive voice but who performs what is dependent on which preposition is used.

  1. Experiments were performed ON me within a [the] company.
    The experiments were done by someone else (e.g. scientists) on me, I am the recipient.

  2. Experiments were performed BY me within a [the] company.
    I did the experiments. I am the agent (the doer) of the action.

The original sentence is in the active voice

  1. I [subject] worked on experimenting new things [object] within a company

The equivalent passive construction with the same meaning would be:

  1. Experimenting new things [subject] were done (worked on) by me [object] within a company.

The OP's friend was mislead by the phrasal verb "work on something". The person used the same preposition "on" in the passive construction which significantly changed the original meaning.

As kindly noted by Colleen in the comments, it's important to add that the phrase "experimenting new things" is not idiomatic in English. Instead we can say "learning, trying, or experiencing new things".

When it is a noun we say carry out or perform experiments ON something e.g "experiments were carried out on animals". When it is a verb, the most commonly used prepositions are ON and WITH; e.g. They are experimenting with new ideas.

  • 1
    Also "experimenting new things" is ungrammatical, which contributes to the confusion--"experiment" as a verb is intransitive.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 15:03
  • @ColleenV Yes, you're right. Just saying "on /with new things" would have been better but I preferred to limit myself to the example sentence. Even "within a company" sounds a bit strange but is, arguably, grammatical.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 15:18
  • @Mari-Lou A I have a question. what does the OP stand for? I'm a English learner. I don't know what the OP is. Please let me know. while searching, I came across often it.
    – bak1936
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 1:01
  • @bak1936 It's short for two things: Original Poster (the author) and Original Post (the question).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 5:10

The difference is in the roles. When you are doing something, you are the main agent of that specific activity. When something is done to you, you are a subject and there is an external agent doing the main work.

With the example of "experimenting":

  • "I'm experimenting" and "I'm doing experiments" mean that you are preforming some action to find out the result.
  • "I'm being experimented on" means that you are the subject of an experiment and you are being used by someone else to find something out. Usually a response to something.

There can be some confusion depending on the nature of the experiment:

Scenario 1: You are trying out equipment and observing how it performs - you are doing experiments on the equipment. You may have been given a tester number to record your results.

Scenario 2: Someone is asking you to wear or test some equipment so that they can find something out about the equipment (does it fit, can you use it well) - the other person is doing an experiment on the equipment and you are helping them

Scenario 3: Someone asks you to test some equipment so that they can see how you respond - you are the subject of an experiment or you are being experimented on.

Scenario 4: It could happen that someone asks you to test some equipment and while taking notes on your performance they are also using your notes to assess the equipment. In this case you are doing an experiment on the equipment while being experimented on by the main researcher. This is somewhat unfocused and not good research.

You can also experiment on yourself in which case you are performing both roles.

  • In a formal academic or scientific context, such as a medical double-blind test, there may be formal identification and separation of experimenter (the scientist who has devised the experiment), experimental subject, and also other workers involved in the experiment who are administering drugs or making assessments of the subjects but have no knowledge of the wider experiment. In many contexts, this isn't the case and you may think of things to try out, do them on yourself, and judge the result.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 12:40
  • The polysemous term subject may occasion confusion here, since experimental subjects correspond with grammatical ones only insofar as experimenters recount their experiments in passive voice (as in "the pigeons were fed"). In ethical terms, moreover, to use people as experimental "subjects" is to objectify them.
    – Brian Donovan
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 14:05

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