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Which one is grammatically correct?

a. The fence collapsed during a strong storm.
b. The fence was collapsed during a strong storm.

My teacher said it's b. but I'm having doubts...

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    They're both grammatical, it depends on what you're trying to say. – Barmar Feb 3 '15 at 0:03
  • I would say A. B could be reworded as "The fence was collapsed by a strong storm" and be correct, but as worded "was collapsed" has no actor and is kind of left dangling. – Hot Licks Feb 3 '15 at 0:11
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    B would be fine... if we are talking about a special fence, that was collapsed by someone to prevent damage by the storm. Or something like that. If the storm blew the fence to pieces, a is definitely the most natural way to say that. – oerkelens Feb 3 '15 at 0:13
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    Your teacher seems to think that collapse is a transitive verb. You are justifiably treating it as intransitive, referring to the thing that is collapsed, not the thing that "collapsed" it. A better transitive verb would "crushed", or "caused [the fence to collapse]. I would argue that the main, most common sense of "collapse" (in AmE, anyway) is to fall down (not over) of its own accord, rather than due to any sudden, violent outside influence. – Brian Hitchcock Feb 3 '15 at 0:13
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    Collapse can be (and usually is) intransitive, so The fence collpased is normal. As a transitive verb, collapse means to fold or otherwise disassemble something that has been made to be disassembled. So The fence was collapsed seems to mean (if anything) that a collapsible fence was involved; it is definitely an unusual sentence. – John Lawler Feb 3 '15 at 1:27
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Both sentences are grammatical, but they have different meanings.

a means that the fence went from being upright to collapsed while the storm was in progress.

b means that the fence was in the collapsed state during the time of the storm. When the collapsing occurred relative to the the storm is not specifically stated, it might have been before the start of the storm (someone might have collapsed it to prevent it from blowing away).

A variation of b would restore the implication that the collapse occurred during the storm:

The fence was collapsed by the wind during a storm.

Adding an agent that caused the collapse makes it refer to a specific event, rather than a state of being. This is just a rearrangement of

The wind collapsed the fence during the storm.

from the active to the passive voice.

In practice, collapse is not usually used transitively like this at all. It would be more common to use knocked down for this, as in

The wind knocked down the fence during the storm.

knocked down also tends to refer to a specific event rather than an ongoing state, so

The fence was knocked down during the storm.

means that it fell while the storm was ongoing, but doesn't specifically name the agent that caused it.

| improve this answer | |
  • Variation b can be taken to mean that the collapse occurred during the storm, by omitting the agent For example, if you know that something collapsed the fence while the storm was in progress, but you don't know what, you could say "the fence was collapsed during the storm". – DJClayworth Feb 25 '15 at 22:32

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