This came into my mind recently, after I attempted to list the possible formations of the verb "stutter".

You can't say "be stuttered", since you can't apply the verb "stutter" to someone else, or something like that, but you can say "be stuttering", since it means to exist in that state.

I can't think of other verbs that could be like this, though, so I wondered, is there a general rule regarding this?

  • "Be" + past participle is the sequence used to form passive clauses. The bottom line is that you have to be acquainted with the uses of a verb and know that it forms a passive before you can use it in a passive. The only short answer is that some verbs just don't form passives. But the long answer is really long.
    – BillJ
    Dec 12, 2021 at 8:32
  • 1
    Mostly, the "general rule" here is that "BE + past participle" only works with transitive verbs. That's verbs that can take an object, usually with an "agent" (subject) performing the "action" of the verb, which somehow affects the "patient" (object). Since it's (just about) possible to say He stuttered the words [out], it's also just about possible to say The words were stuttered [out]. But that would be an unusual / marginal usage. Dec 12, 2021 at 13:10

1 Answer 1


Be + past participle is known as the passive voice.

In the passive voice the object of the verb becomes the grammatical subject.

So only verbs that have a direct object can be put into the passive voice. These are the transitive verbs.

Stutter is an intransitive verb. Other examples

  • Smile
  • Occur
  • die
  • arrive

The list is long. Some verbs can be used both transitively and intransitively. And example is "to open". You can use the passive with such verbs to force them to be understood as the transitive meaning

  • Thank you very much for the clear explanation!
    – amegyoushi
    Dec 12, 2021 at 10:32
  • Technically, "stutter" can be a transitive verb, like pretty much every speech verb. "He-he-hello", stuttered the professor.
    – Stef
    Dec 12, 2021 at 21:27
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    It is not true that only verbs with a direct object can take the passive voice. For example, "I was shouted at", "He doesn't like being looked at".
    – TonyK
    Dec 12, 2021 at 21:27
  • @TonyK Hmm. Are there other exceptions? Or is it perhaps that we treat "shouted at" etc. as almost its own verb?
    – trlkly
    Dec 12, 2021 at 22:10
  • Technically, I think ‘smile’ can also be transitive, e.g. “He smiled a smile of deceit.” So a smile of deceit could be smiled. (An uncommon usage, of course.)
    – gidds
    Dec 12, 2021 at 22:12

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