As far I know, the passive voice of the sentence below

He was shown her.

may have both meanings:

  1. He was shown to her.
  2. She was shown to him.

Is it really true?

1 Answer 1


You would never normally say "He was shown her", nor its active form "Someone showed him her.

You might say "Someone showed him the book", and you could render this as a passive "He was shown the book (by someone)" You could - at a stretch - form "A book was shown him", however I don't find this generally acceptable. There may be some di-transitive verbs where this kind of passive form is possible, but not "shown".

So, with the warning that you would never use it. "He was shown her" would mean "Somebody showed him her" or (better) "Somebody showed her to him". You could express this as

She was shown to him.

This last sentence is correct and understandable. The form "He was shown her" is not natural. It does not mean "He was shown to her".

  • 1
    Three cats were shown her, and she chose the tabby. Nov 21, 2021 at 21:26
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    Exactly I don't find that an idiomatic usage. "She was shown three cats and chose the tabby." would be preferred every time.
    – James K
    Nov 21, 2021 at 21:42
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    Well, yes, not a common way of putting it, but not wrong or incorrect either. A bit bookish and old-fashioned, maybe. In 1667 Samuel Pepys attended a meeting of the Royal Society. A guest was the Duchess of Newcastle. "Several fine experiments were shown her". Also a 1905 New York court case - "certain itemized bills were shown her and she was allowed to testify that she paid them during the deceased's last illness, and that they were for household use." Nov 21, 2021 at 21:53
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    "A bit bookish and old-fashioned" - it is the sort of thing I say. Nov 21, 2021 at 22:43

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