1

"He does not like people laughing at him."

Here the subject is "He" and the object is "people laughing at him". Now, I will have to make "people laughing at him" the subject, and make "He" the object. Here is my attempt:

"People laughing at him is not liked by him."

However, according to my book, it will be the following:

"He does not like him being laughed at by people."

Am I correct, or is my book correct?

Edit for more context:

This voice change question came in the Dhaka University admission exam 2020-21. I got this question from a question bank, i.e., my book. The complete question is listed below:

Q) Change the voice of this sentence: "He does not like people laughing at him."

(a) People laughing at him are not liked by him.

(b) He does not like being laughed at.

(c) To be laughed at by people are not like by him.

(d) He does not like him being laughed at by people.

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  • 1
    Are you sure that there is a him in that sentence? It doesn't make sense. May 15 at 14:46
  • @RonaldSole I'm absolutely sure. I checked again just now. May 15 at 14:47
  • @RonaldSole Why's the presence/absence of "him" important, sir? May 15 at 14:49
  • 2
    So we don't know for certain if the subject and the object pronouns are the same person. The best answer is (b) but like other users said, it's not in the passive voice. This Indian English phenomenon to compulsively create tests about transforming the active into the passive and choosing between "whom" vs "who" does not help students be better English speakers. Trust me, it doesn't. This Q is similar to a riddle than to the English language.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 16 at 8:30
  • 4
    "He does not like him being laughed at by people" sounds very awkward and unnatural. That would make me question the quality of the book and the university, and the level and quality of English the university would be able to teach.
    – NotThatGuy
    May 16 at 11:47

5 Answers 5

5

In a comment I said "don't do this". But here is slightly more of an answer.

In any sentence that contains more than one active clause with a subject and object there is always going to be more than one way to "change to passive"

For example "I like [children singing songs]" Has a matrix clause "I like X" and a gerund "children singing songs". either of these could be made passive and so we could get

Children singing songs is liked by me.

I like songs being sung by children

Songs being sung by children is liked by me.

All three contain a passive element. And there are other possibilities since active participles can be changed to passive "I like songs sung by children".

Now, normally when a test says "change to passive" it means "change the matrix clause to the passive and leave to other ones alone. But "like" is a verb that is particularly rare in the passive. Idiomatically "X is liked by me" is virtually never used. So, your book has randomly decided that you should change the gerund to a passive form.

The only way to answer such questions is to mind read the person setting the test. It isn't worth worrying about such questions.

In this particular case both your suggestion and the book answer are hopelessly non-idiomatic. Yours because "like" is rarely put into the passive, the book because the pronoun "him" and the "by" phrase should be removed. It would actually be quite idiomatic to say "He doesn't like being laughed at."

So don't do this question, and go and read a nice book! I'd recommend something by George Orwell. He was always very clear that passive voice should be avoided whenever possible.

Of the four options:

A) is passive but hopelessly non-idiomatic, so doesn't express the same idea as the given expression
B) is in the active voice (for the main clause)
C) is ungrammatical
D) is active voice and non-idiomatic

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  • 1
    or is that a participle "singing songs" modifying the object "children"
    – James K
    May 16 at 5:35
  • 1
    "Songs being sung by children is liked by me."- Shouldn't it be "Songs being sung by children are liked by me."? Songs (being sung by children) are liked (by me). Thoughts? May 16 at 9:05
  • 1
    @tryingtobeastoic the sentence speaks of the idea of songs being sung by children, in this case, rather than the songs themselves.
    – Esther
    May 16 at 13:40
  • 1
    @tryingtobeastoic Yes and no. Ususally the subject is "Songs", but you can read the subject as the gerund "being sung" which is singular. And moreover, you shouldn't use "is liked" So this is an example of a weird grammatical sentence which you should never use (neither with "is" nor with "are")
    – James K
    May 16 at 17:38
  • 1
    When we say "a sentence is in the passive voice" we usually mean the main, or matrix, clause is in the passive voice. So, "No, b is in the active voice" (it contains a passive subordinate element)
    – James K
    May 18 at 5:26
6

The passive voice I should use is:

Being laughed at by people is not something he likes.

If you write:

He does not like being laughed at by people, (No him)

The sentence is correct but you have simply changed the wording of the predicate.

It makes no sense to write: He does not like him being laughed at by people.

Who is the him?

It would be possible to write: He does not like his being laughed at by people. But it's clumsy and unnecessary.

4
  • "He does not like being laughed at by people."- is this acceptable? May 15 at 15:25
  • 2
    Yes, but it is not the passive voice. He is still the subject of the sentence. May 15 at 15:55
  • Understood. "People laughing at him are not liked by him"- is this acceptable? I have changed the subject from He to People. May 16 at 2:49
  • 2
    RonaldSole "he" and "him" could also be two different people, but I would hope that distinction would be made clear in the book, and if the OP understood this, they should have said so from the beginning. "(Ron) He doesn't like him (his little brother) being laughed at (by people).” It's passable... I would just say "Ron doesn't like people laughing at his little brother.”
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 16 at 8:15
3

Let us give some examples to make it clear.

[1] Active Voice : He does not like people laughing at him.

Passive Voice : He does not like being laughed at.

(Here,'Him' must be omitted. And the agent or doer of the action is 'people'. Therefore 'by people' must be omitted in the passive Voice.)

[2] Active Voice : He does not like people laughing at you.

Passive Voice : He does not like you being laughed at.

[3] Active Voice : He does not like me laughing at you.

Passive Voice : He does not like you being laughed at by me.

3
  • 1
    "He [subject] does not like it [being laughed at]." is grammatical but it is not passive. The passive would be: "[Being laughed at] It is not liked by him.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 16 at 8:35
  • 2
    I'm going to have to revise my thinking: (A) People laughed at me ------ (P) I was laughed at (by people). Is it passive? It looks like it.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 16 at 8:53
  • The passive construction is "be verb + past participle form of the verb". Therefore, the sentence "I was laughed at (by people)" is obviously in the Passive Voice. May 18 at 19:41
1

"He does not like him being laughed at by people" sounds off. (b) is the only choice in the question which has no issues, regardless of whether it answer the question. You would have to know that this is an exam from a school in Bangladesh to have any reason to pick (d). Otherwise, you would never want to pick a choice that has anything slightly funny in its grammar: certainly not in an exam that is about grammar!

The him is superfluous. If we must include a pronoun, for which there would have to be some very good reason, it should probably be himself. For that reason, in a grammar exam in North America or Britain, I would consider sentence (d) to be a distractor.

In a clause where the subject is he, the pronoun him doesn't necessarily refer to that subject. Consider:

He is protective of his oddly behaving neighbor. He does not like him being laughed at people.

Here we understand the second he to be the same person as the first he, but him refers to the oddly behaving neighbor.

When we hear the second sentence out of context, it leaves us wondering: who is this him that he doesn't like being laughed at by people? If it refers to the same he, why isn't him simply omitted?

Now consider:

He laughs at people, yet does not like him being laughed at by people.

Here, we can, again, drop him: if someone doesn't like being laughed at, that means that person him or herself. We an also use himself, which adds an emphasis which highlights the hypocrisy:

He laughs at people, yet does not like himself being laughed at by people.

More usually, himself would be used somewhat differently, when the repetition of laugh is elided:

He laughs at people, yet does not like it himself.

Here, it is understood to be being laughed at. The himself is necessary, and it cannot be replaced by him. If it is removed, the interpretation changes: he laughs at people, but doesn't like it that he does that or doesn't enjoy it. When himself is present, it is clear that he doesn't like the action reversed such that he is the target.

There exists a construction in which this pronoun can be added next to he to add emphasis:

He laughs at people, yet doesn't like it when he himself is the target.

The himself can usually be removed without changing meaning; it's a kind of device used for emphasizing situations of irony or hypocrisy. But it cannot always be removed:

"Dude in the video warns the other guy not to walk with his phone because he might walk into the fountain, and then he himself does exactly that. LOL!"

Here we have two possible antecedents for "he", which make it impossible to remove "himself" without inviting the wrong interpretation.

1

Q) Change the voice of this sentence: "He does not like people laughing at him."
(a) People laughing at him are not liked by him.
(b) He does not like being laughed at.
(c) To be laughed at by people are not like by him.
(d) He does not like him being laughed at by people.

As all the commenters rightly say: Just don't. (Avoid taking advice from Indian tests or test prep materials. They're usually written by people who don't know the subject very well at all, even when the subject is just "English.")

Sentence (a) is arguably grammatical, but awkward, and with the wrong meaning: it says that he doesn't like [the] people who are laughing at him. It's not clear how he feels about their laughter, but he definitely doesn't like them.

Sentence (b) is perfectly grammatical and correct — even preferable to sentence (Q), in ordinary conversation. But it's still phrased as "He doesn't like...", so the "change of voice" goal hasn't been achieved.

Sentence (c) is completely ungrammatical for two separate reasons. But, if you corrected it to (c') To be laughed at by people is not liked by him, then it would be the best answer.

Sentence (d) is ungrammatical, but the error is common in colloquial English: you should always use the possessive case before a gerund, not shoehorn in a second object in the objective case. If you corrected it to (d') He does not like his being laughed at by people, then it would be grammatical and correct — but a bit stilted and unnatural. Anyway, it's still phrased as "He doesn't like...", so the "change of voice" goal hasn't been achieved.

All of the following sentences are reasonably grammatical and correct:

He doesn't like to be laughed at.
He doesn't like being laughed at.
He doesn't like his being laughed at.
He doesn't like when people laugh at him.
He doesn't like it when people laugh at him.
He doesn't like when he gets laughed at.
He doesn't like it when he gets laughed at.
He doesn't like it when he is laughed at.
He doesn't like people to laugh at him.
He doesn't like people laughing at him. (colloquial)
He doesn't like people's laughing at him. (formal, stilted)

In each case, you can, technically, flip the sentence around from "He doesn't like X" to "X isn't liked by him"; but that would be very much not idiomatic English. There are languages where "X isn't liked by me" is the usual structure for this kind of sentence; e.g. Spanish has X no me gusta ("X doesn't bring me pleasure"), but that's simply not an idiomatic structure for the verb "to like" or "to enjoy" in modern English.

X isn't liked by him. (unidiomatic)
X isn't something he likes.
X isn't one of his favorite things. (hint of sarcasm/irony)
X doesn't gratify him.
X (displeases|annoys|irks) him.
X makes him (upset|angry).

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