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"To get married" has the structure of a passive sentence, but it also is being used as an active verb (e.g I got married last year). Now, look at this sentence:

The passive sentence: "She got married by the priest."

The active form would be: The priest married her.

However, although this sentence grammatically sounds OK, it sounds wrong semantically, because it would mean the priest got married. So what would be the active form of that sentence?

Would it be: "The priest got her married."

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    The words "got" and "gotten" are used widely in America but always appear inelegant to my ears. All of the instances of "got" in your question can, and should in my view be replaced with "was". Remember "marry" is a verb - that can be used transitively or intransitively. "That happened before I married/was married..." are both perfectly correct English forms. There is no need for the "got".
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 11:19
  • To avoid possible misunderstandings, although it has to be said that priests cannot marry whereas pastors, clerics, chaplains and preachers can, say: The priest (etc.) married the couple.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 12:00
  • I got married last year is not active. To get married means: to become married, actually. become is stative, not active.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 18:03
  • @Lambie, I understand your point, but even if it means "to become", then there must be someone who becomes something. So, when you say "I got married", who is the doer of the action, who is the one that became something? I am the one who became married, aren't I?
    – Yunus
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 18:14
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    To my ears (native British English speaker), "she got married by the priest" sounds wrong. It should be "she was married by the priest." The phrase "she got married" means she changed state from being single to being married, which presumably involved meeting her spouse somewhere along the way --- the priest is involved in only a small part of that.
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 4:55

4 Answers 4

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To get married (have someone perform a marriage ceremony for you and your partner) is always grammatically passive. The speaker could say I married last year with the same meaning, but we usually use got married in everyday conversation.

Sentences like The priest married her are always potentially ambiguous (out of context). In the old British TV sitcom All Gas and Gaiters there was an episode where the Bishop's chaplain meets a female friend and reports "She has asked me to marry her". In fact she had asked him to officiate at her wedding to another man, but the other characters understand that she has proposed to the chaplain - lots of comic misunderstandings ensue. (In real life he would have realised that what he had said was ambiguous and quickly made it clear!)

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  • There is the old riddle about "Twin boys John and Joseph - born in March, with birthdays in September - married each other". How can this sentence be true? Or shall I say - how in the days before same-sex marriage could it be true. (Though even today I am not sure that marriage between siblings of the same gender is allowed in law.)
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 11:31
  • @Kate Bunting, what I don't understand is if "to get married" is grammatically passive, then how can the meaning be active? The meaning seems to be active because "to get married is a verb where the subject is the doer of the action. In other words he/she is the one who puts himself in the marriage? It is interesting the grammer is passive, but the meaning is active.
    – Yunus
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 13:10
  • @Kate Bunting, by the way, what would be the passive form of "Does the Pope marry people?" Would it be "Are people married by the Pope? or "Do people get married by the Pope? or both?
    – Yunus
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 13:27
  • The subject and their fiancé[e] are married by the person who performs the ceremony - just as getting your hair cut means having someone cut your hair. Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 14:25
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    Since my mother is ordained, and performed the wedding ceremony for my sister, I have always rather enjoyed telling people "my mum married my sister" and watching their confusion. Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 19:02
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The subject and object of the verb "marry" can have different roles, according to context. Consider

Jane married Joe and lived happily ever after.

Jane and Joe married soon after they met.

The vicar married Jane and Joe.

Jack was keen to marry his daughter to a nobleman

With a verb in which the role of the subject isn't fixed but determined by context, you just need to provide the context. In your example "The priest married her", the missing context is a spouse. "The priest married her and Joe". Or you rephrase, "The priest performed her marriage".

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  • The term which was always used in Britain (certainly in Anglican conexts), but may now be out of fashion, was "officiated". EG. "John Morgan and Jane Howden were married at St Matthew's Church, Morton-in-the-Marsh on Saturday, with the Rev Charles Skinner officiating." Charles officiated at the marriage of Jane and Joe.
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 11:15
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    Nice answer! So it seems like the verb "marry" forms its own causative/inchoative pair -- in other pairs like "set"/"sit," they are two different words. I wonder if "marry" is the only verb like this? Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 17:29
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I would analyse "married" in this case not as a verb at all, but as an adjective:

Are you married?
Yes, I'm married to Steve
When did you get married?
I got married last year

Compare "cooked":

Is this fish cooked?
Yes, it's cooked with garlic
When did it get cooked?
It got cooked this morning, before I opened the shop

Consider also the antonyms "unmarried", and "uncooked", which are not forms of the verbs "to unmarry" or "to uncook". (You could wittily use "unmarry" to mean "divorce", but that would not be the normal use of "unmarried", which just means "not married".)

As others have pointed out, you can use "marry" directly as a verb, but it is often avoided, because the subject is ambiguous: is the person marrying the person performing the ceremony (the priest, registrar, celebrant, etc), or one of the spouses.

Since the person performing the ceremony doesn't end up in the state of "being married", we dodge the ambiguity by using that form instead of the direct verb.

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  • There are a great many words which started out as a passive tense of a verb, then gained broader use as adjectives. This is one of them, but consider also "broken", "burnt", "painted" as just a few examples.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 18:25
  • @BenVoigt Absolutely, "cooked" was just the first that came to mind. I'm not sure if you're agreeing with my reasoning, though, or disagreeing?
    – IMSoP
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 19:57
  • Mild disagreement -- the fact that the word has entered usage as an adjective doesn't mean it's no longer as a verb's participle to form the passive voice. The usages in the question are, in my mind, as a verb and not an adjective.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 20:19
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I agree that "she was married by the priest" is passive, and would suggest "the priest married them" as the corresponding active form.

This is one of very few cases where "them" both avoids ambiguity, and is acceptable to a reader "of a certain age".

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