I read the below sentence in Learn American English website.

You were given some money to see a movie.

Is this passive construction correct? Or do we need to construct it as follows:

I got some money to see a movie.

Which construction is correct in which context ?

I really appreciate any help you can provide

3 Answers 3


The phrase was given is much more specific. It implies that someone else gave you the money.

got on the other hand is a lot more vague. It doesn't necessarily mean that it was a person who gave the money to you. You could have also obtained it by finding it on the floor or winning the lottery for example.

  • Question has been updated. Please have a look at once
    – pramod
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 16:31
  • The answer has been updated. I hope it helps :)
    – Vlammuh
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 16:39

The passive construction is correct.  Your two example sentences are both correct, and they mean opposite things. 

The simplest case is the active voice subject/verb/object sentence pattern:

John cooked the steak.

The action of this sentence is in the verb "cooked".  The subject "John" performs the action.  The direct object "steak" receives the action.

We can form a sentence that has cooking as its action and has the steak as the thing that receives the action without even mentioning John:

The steak was cooked.

This sentence is passive.  The subject doesn't do anything, doesn't cause this action.  There is still some action, but that action happens to the subject instead of coming from the subject.

Direct objects aren't the only possibility.  There are also indirect objects.

John cooked Sally a steak.

In this sentence, no one cooks Sally.  She doesn't receive the action.  She also doesn't cause the action, the way that John does.  Instead, she receives the benefit of the action.  She also receives the steak. 

We can form a sentence with Sally as the subject, without changing her role in the meaning of the sentence.  That is to say, she can remain the beneficiary or the recipient instead of the actor, even as a subject:

Sally was cooked a steak.

This example looks very much like the structure of your first sentence:

You were given some money.

The action is giving.  The thing that receives the action is "some money".  The thing that receives the money is "you".  This sentence does not tell us who did the giving. 

Your other example sentence is in the active voice. 

You gave some money.

In this sentence, the subject "you" does perform the action.

There is a difference between grammatical roles (like subject, direct object and indirect object) and semantic roles (like agent, patient and beneficiary).  In my sentences with John, Sally and the steak, "John" is always the actor or agent, Sally is always the beneficiary or recipient, the steak is always the patient.  However, all three are the subject of at least one sentence above.

The sentences where the agent "John" isn't the subject are passive voice sentences.

In your sentences, "you" is the subject of both.  In your active voice sentence, "you" is the actor or agent.  In your passive voice sentence, "you" is the recipient.

  • Is it wrong if I construct the above sentence as " I got some money to see a movie "
    – pramod
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 16:25
  • Question has been updated. Please have a look at once
    – pramod
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 16:33

Slightly related, but in any formal English writing, passive voice is generally not acceptable. Any research papers, business reports, etc. need to be in active voice as much as possible

  • 1
    as much as possible? I hope you are not referring to the over-used Strunk & White "rule" that get rightfully burnt every time it pops up? Sure, overuse of the passive is not a good idea, but avoiding it just because you are somehow capable of creating an active sentence is deadly for style and readability.
    – oerkelens
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 14:08
  • Tell that to my professors that would take major points off for passive voice consistently. Note I said FORMAL writing. Is it right? No. Will it get a non-native speaker in trouble? Probably.
    – Zessa
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 14:52
  • Using it consistently is the exact opposite of avoiding it whenever possible. Well-styled (also formal!) language will undoubtedly find itself somewhere in between those two. Actually, I see non-native speakers getting in trouble with trying to adhere to the "use no passive!"-interpretation of S&W here on ELL almost daily, even trying to change a common idiomatic expression like "he is based in ..." into something active because they _think that phrase is passive, and that must be baaaad.
    – oerkelens
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 14:56
  • No, by using it consistently I meant that points would be taken off consistently for even one sentence. Did I have jerkface professors? Yes. Doesn't mean ELL people aren't going to run into them if they're coming in for English Language schooling. We're obviously going to disagree so I'm just going to leave it there.
    – Zessa
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 14:59
  • Oh, I'm aware that there are still places where such people wield the scepter over what they consider the English language, and I agree it cannot harm to warn people about them. But that does not mean I agree that it is a good idea to promote the supposed "rules" that such teachers make up on a site like this. Nothing wrong with saying "your teacher may want you to avoid the passive", but let's not forget non scholae sed vitae discimus.
    – oerkelens
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 15:03

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