I am noticing that the passive and acrtive voices using in some sentences can occasionally mean the same. As for instance

1. I engaged in this affair
2. I was engaged in this affair

3. The story was published in this magazine
4. The story published in this magazine

Is there any essential difference between 1 and 2, 3 and 4? How many verbs have such a strange quality?

  • Your fourth sentence ("The story published in this magazine") does not appear to be a complete sentence in the traditional sense. "Published" is usually not used as a finite verb in this way, at least in AmE. (If that use is acceptable in some dialect, then please ignore this comment.) Feb 11, 2022 at 21:28
  • @MarcInManhattan - The Adventures of Pinocchio - Wikipedia The third chapter of the story published on July 14, 1881 in the Giornale per i bambini - I don't know the nationality of the Wikipedia contributor, but as a BrE speaker, I find it slightly awkward, although I can imagine US/BrE people employed in publishing using it that way, like e.g. 'the show aired on this station' for a TV show. Feb 11, 2022 at 21:33
  • @MichaelHarvey Yes, it may very well be industry jargon. I looked in several online dictionaries (M-W, American Heritage, etc.) to make sure, and none provided a similar use for "publish" as an intransitive verb. Feb 11, 2022 at 21:37
  • 1
    The story was published by this magazine versus The magazine published this story.
    – Lambie
    Feb 11, 2022 at 22:27

1 Answer 1


There are a set of verbs (I've seen them called "labile", "ergative" and "subject-object ambivariant") that have this property. These verbs have a transitive and intransitive form. The object of the transitive form is the subject of the intransitive form

The door opened (intranstive)

Joe opened the door. (transitive)

The difference in meaning is that the transitive form has an explicit actor. The intransitive form means that the door open by itself.

The passive form allows us to imply the existence of an actor, without identifying that actor.

The door was opened.

This sentence means the transitive meaning of "to open" is used, and it implies that "somebody opened the door".

So the difference between sentence 1 and 2 is in 1 "I engaged myself in the affair". but in 2 "I was engaged by somebody else..."

3 is correct. But 4 is an error, because "publish" is not a labile verb. It doesn't have a (common) intransitive form, whose a subject that is the object of the transitive form.

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