Searching The New York Times, I found 22,100 results for "is it proved" and, therefore, I argue that that phrase is likely correct English.

But on History Stack Exchange a user edited the following sentence, written by me, "Is it proved that the United States didn't have a third atomic bomb to drop over Japan?" transforming it into this other sentence, "Has it been proven that the United States didn't have a third atomic bomb to drop over Japan?"

The user has left this comment "... corrected minor errors with spelling and grammar."

In reference to the context where those sentences had been written, can anybody explain why the sentence I wrote is wrong and, particularly, why the proofread version is correct or more appropriate in comparison with mine?

  • 7
    Unfortunately, Google hits aren't reliable. Even if they were, results for "is it proved" include phrases like "How is it proved?" and "The significance of this result is it proved the . . .", which aren't relevant to your question. Checking GloWbE and COCA, I found 18 and 3 instances of "has it been proven" respectively. There were no relevant instances of "is it proved" in either corpus. (This doesn't prove that it's wrong, but it certainly doesn't support that it's right.) – snailboat May 17 '13 at 13:56
up vote 13 down vote accepted

In this case, the string is it proved is a subject-auxiliary inversion of it is proved, which is a combination of dummy it with the simple passive is proved. The dummy subject it is inserted during extraposition, taking the place of the content clause, which is moved to the end of the sentence:

[That X is true] is proved. →  It is proved [that X is true].

We can contrast the simple is proven with the perfect has been proved:

[That X is true] has been proved. →  It has been proved [that X is true].

There's one complication: this particular verb has two past participles, proved and proven. That means we can write any of the following:

  simple passive                perfect passive
  ---------------------         -------------------------
  It is proved                  It has been proved
  It is proven                  It has been proven

All of these are grammatical, and the proved and proven versions are equivalent. The real question isn't proved versus proven, but simple versus perfect. Even though both versions are grammatical, they aren't used in the same situations. The simple version is used when I am talking about where something is proved, in a conditional, or (rarely) if something is proved right now.

  1. "Where is the theorem proved?" "It is proved in Appendix B."
  2. "If and when the theory is proven, you'll get your grant money."
  3. "It will be proved in five seconds. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. It is proven." (spoken, rare)

The perfect version is used when you're talking about something proved in the past, or whether something has been proven in the past:

  1. "I'm not sure if this is a good idea." "Don't worry, it's been proven to work."
  2. "The Theory of Evolution has been proven."
  3. "Has it been proved that the United States didn't have a third atomic bomb to drop over Japan?"

Note that outside of this context, proved and proven aren't always equivalent. Proven is favored in attributive uses (a proven fact, not *a proved fact) and in certain set phrases (innocent until proven guilty). The preterite is always proved, not proven (I proved him wrong, but never *I proven him wrong).

In this case, I agree with the edit. The change to proven is perhaps unnecessary, but to my ear it sounds better, so I don't object to that, either. Has it been proved would also be fine.

  • Does it mean It has proven itself as... is incorrect? – Maulik V May 26 '14 at 11:28
  • @MaulikV No, that's fine. It's active, though, not passive. – snailboat May 26 '14 at 11:31

This is one of those rare cases where the irregular verb form is actually becoming more popular...

enter image description here

If you toggle between UK/US corpuses in that link, you'll see that US usage has moved decisively to the irregular form. My own feeling is that both have always been perfectly valid, but phrases such as until proven guilty seem more formal/authoritative (and thus more appropriate in a legal context) to the American ear. But to Brits it simply sounds "archaic", because we know that on average irregular verb forms are disappearing (we're also more likely to perceive proven as quaint Scottish legalese).

From a grammatical point of view, both are fine, and to claim otherwise is mere pedantry. But here's my evidence that the irregular form more closely associates with legal, rather than, say, culinary contexts...

proven/proved guilty 148,000 / 137,000 hits in Google Books
proven/proved dough 32 / 180 hits
dough is proven/proved 0 / 31 hits

  • Note that prove dough has been incompletely replaced with the derived form proof dough, and proofed dough and dough is proofed are considerably more common than the choices you present. – snailboat May 17 '13 at 16:50
  • @snailboat: I was going to comment further along those lines, but I felt it was getting a bit detailed already for ELL. To my mind, the only important thing is that the regular form is at least "acceptable" in all contexts to all except raving pedants. So the easiest option for learners is simply to use that form themselves. They can probably guess the meaning of proven/proofed afresh each time if and when they come across these variants; they're barely worth learning as such, because you never really need to generate them yourself. – FumbleFingers May 17 '13 at 16:59
  • 1
    Verbs aside, with adjectives, the case is much clearer: proved does not sound very good in a ?proved fact, and a proven fact sounds much better. One encounters proven things to be much more suitable than ?proved things, which sounds almost alien used as an adjective. – tchrist Sep 28 '14 at 4:40

There's a usage dispute about whether one should say It has been proved versus It has been proven. It seems clear to me that the proper expression is almost always the one with proved because that's the preferred past participle of the verb prove in contemporary English. In the venerable 19th-century aphorism Innocent until proven guilty, however, it's always proven.

Some usage mavens are intractably infected with their own sense of infallibility and will change what is clearly an acceptable alternate form to what they know the grammar god insists on as it whispers The Truth into their Jean d'Arc ear.

There's nothing wrong with your sentence that changing your style to my style won't improve, because my style is sooooo much better is the hallmark of such editors. The only change I'm sympathetic to is changing Is it proved...? to Has it been proved...? because it's still not a settled issue, it seems. (I have no opinions about it.) But I wouldn't change proved to proven.

  • Bill, is it correct to say "those sentences had been written" or is it better "those sentences it had been written"--i.e., who is the subject, "those sentences" or "it"? – user114 May 17 '13 at 14:12
  • @Carlo: I'm sorry, but I don't really understand your question. Can you give me the entire sentence? "those sentences had been written" is a grammatical phrase that might qualify as a complete independent clause in the right context, but "those sentences it had been written" seems prima facie ungrammatical. – user264 May 17 '13 at 14:26
  • +1 Both strong (preve, prove, proven) and weak (prove, proved, proved) were current in Middle English; in Early Modern English the strong form prevailed in the North and in Scotland and the weak form in the South; but proven reentered Standard English in the 17th century, and both have been current for the past 300 years. OED actually gives a quote from Gladstone which uses both in the same sentence. You pays your money and you takes your choice. – StoneyB May 17 '13 at 14:32
  • Bill, thank you very munch indeed. I wrote that clause in the very last sentence of my question: "In reference to the context where those sentences had been written, can anybody explain ..." – user114 May 17 '13 at 14:33

The other answers are not entirely correct. "Proved" and "proven" are not equivalent. Generally "proved" is the past participle, while "proven" is the attributive. There are some dialectical variations, however, so this is not necessarily true in all cases.

It is therefore correct to say "has it been proven", and incorrect to say "is it proved?", but it would also be correct to say "is it proven?" or "has it been proved?"

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