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What is the passive form of the statement "John is painting his room."? I do guess the correct form is "His room is being painted by John". But I am unsatisfied with that as it sounds a little absurd. What is the correct passive form of the statement?

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    The answer this question got here would clear it up – SmokerAtStadium Mar 29 '13 at 12:12
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Usually we'd write this as passive to avoid specifying agency:

John's room was being painted.

But that implies that John isn't the one doing the painting, so you need the awkward by him:

John's room was being painted by him.

But him can't bind to John, so this is unlikely. It still sounds like someone else was doing the painting. Let's try it the other way around:

His room is being painted by John.

Now him really can't bind to John, because it comes first! It sounds like John is painting someone else's room. This is no good.

If we want to use the passive and specify agency and specify that John is both the painter and the owner of the room, we need to be explicit:

John's room is being painted by John.

But this is still clumsy. There has to be some reason we're converting to passive, because it's not natural to do so in this situation. It can't be to avoid specifying who's doing the painting, so more likely, it's to emphasize who's doing the painting.

Unfortunately, the emphasis doesn't come across in the above sentence, so it still doesn't feel natural. It's possible to read it aloud in a natural way (stressing the words by John), but the emphasis isn't clear in writing. We can fix that by being more explicit about it:

John's room is being painted by John.

Or, slightly better:

John's room is being painted--by John himself.

Of course, this probably isn't the answer your exam was looking for!

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    's last suggestion is exactly what I would have suggested (though I wouldn't have put the hyphens personally). – AMM Mar 29 '13 at 17:16
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In my estimation, you're correct on both accounts. "His room is being painted by John." is the most direct way of expressing this in the passive, and it sounds more than a little absurd. "John's room is being painted by him." is even less satisfying.

My advice would be to avoid the need for such a statement if at all possible.

  • Ya i do agree that the need for such statements that sound absurd must be avoided. But, the question was asked in an entrance examination for scholarship, and I had no way out to escape. So, I wrote the first one, but still I am confused if I had committed a mistake. Anyway, thank you! – Ufomammut Mar 29 '13 at 12:21

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