The following sentence

He gave me a test.

can be rewritten like:

A test was given to me.


I was given a test.

Which sounds more acceptable and grammatically correct?

  • 1
    It would be helpful to elaborate the reason for your question. I apparently misunderstood your intention, and have since removed my answer to a question that you were not actually asking. – MrWonderful Dec 30 '14 at 18:40

Both of those are completely acceptable and correct.

Edited to add: What happens is, there are two separate correct ways to phrase this in the active voice:

  • He gave a test to me.
  • He gave me a test.

This alternation is called "dative alternation" or "dative shift".

I should mention, by the way, that in this particular case, "He gave a test to me" is rather awkward; generally we only use that variant when the object of to is "heavier" than just me: "He gave a test to Jill, Bob, and Susan."

Since English frequently allows any type of object — direct object, indirect object, object of preposition — to be "promoted" to subjects via passive-voice transformation, we have four options that might seem possible:

  • Corresponding to "He gave a test to me":
    • A test was given to me. [completely fine]
    • *I was given a test to. [completely wrong]
  • Corresponding to "He gave me a test":
    • A test was given me. [awkward/old-fashioned/dialectal]
    • I was given a test. [completely fine]

However, *"I was given a test to" runs afoul of a restriction on prepositional passives: they don't work when there is also a regular direct object. (For example, we can say "this bed has been slept in", meaning "[someone] has slept in this bed", but not *"this bed has been put kids to sleep in", meaning "[someone] has put kids to sleep in this bed".)

The other three possibilities are all correct, though the "[…] was given me" version is sufficiently uncommon nowadays that I would not recommend it for current use, at least in U.S. English. (It will be understood, but it will sound odd, at least to American ears. British ears may feel differently.)

  • 6
    Can you add some explanation to your answer? On ELL, we prefer answers with explanations, so learners can see the principles that shed light on other situations. – Ben Kovitz Dec 29 '14 at 6:21
  • @BenKovitz: It's hard to explain why something is correct, rather than why something is not; especially when there isn't any reason to think that it might not be correct. But, I've given it a shot now. – ruakh Dec 29 '14 at 19:49

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