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Somebody promised to tell him the truth.

I want to write the passive construction of the above sentence. Here it is:

He was promised to be told the truth.

Is this passive construction right? If it is not correct, please tell me what is the reason.

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    A vendetta against these passive voice exercises is being gone on by me. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 29 '16 at 15:55
  • If I came across this construction in something I was editing, I would change the second sentence to read, "He was promised the truth." The phrase "to be told" is not necessary to understand the statement. – Mark Hubbard Jan 31 '16 at 21:30
  • The phrase "to be told" matches the verbiage of the first sentence, so it is just fine. If you're doing an exercise, this is correct. If you're asking about everyday speech, then I'll have to agree with Mark. – dockeryZ Aug 15 '16 at 12:39
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    Possible duplicate of "I am surprised": passive voice or adjective? – dockeryZ Aug 15 '16 at 12:50
  • You got it right. – LawrenceC Mar 16 '17 at 17:53
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If you look at this list of possible usages of promise from the Cambridge Dictionary, you can see the problem.

+ to infinitive
He promised faithfully to call me every week.
+ that
The government have promised that they'll reduce taxes.
Promise me (that) you won't tell him.
+ two objects
Her parents promised her a new car if she passed her exams.
I've promised myself a long bath when I get through all this work.

Note that I have italicised the object in the sentences where the verb promise has an object. You can only convert a sentence to passive voice if there is an object. So, it is possible for the that and the two objects form, but it is not possible for the to infinitive form, because it has no object.

Somebody promised to tell him the truth.

This sentence is in the + to infinitive from, so it cannot be converted to passive voice. You could rewrite the sentence in one of the other forms, which do take an object and therefore can be made passive:

+ that
Somebody promised him that they would tell him the truth - active
He was promised that they would tell him the truth - passive

two objects
Somebody promised him the truth - active
He was promised the truth - passive

  • I don't see anything in your link to indicate a "to infinitive" form cannot be passivized. The verb promise implicitly has an object (that is someone is the recipient of the promise). Note how your link defines promise: "to tell someone that you will certainly do something" – eques Sep 14 '16 at 16:59
  • @Eques: "The verb promise implicitly has an object": do you have a reference to back up this claim? As far as I am aware, the only object is the to-clause which is a direct object of the verb. See the section "Infinitive Clauses as Subjects and Objects" in this link. grammar.about.com/od/il/g/Infinitive-Clause.htm – JavaLatte Sep 14 '16 at 17:24
  • "to tell someone that you will certainly do something" your link defines the verb promise with a transitive verb. For something to be a promise, someone must be promised, so even though there isn't an explicit object in the sentence, there is a passive equivalent. – eques Sep 14 '16 at 17:33
  • @eques, I have provided references to back up my argument. I am not going to continue this discussion until you provide a reference to back up yours – JavaLatte Sep 14 '16 at 17:53
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    @SovereignSun: those sentences are understandable but don't sound natural, for the reasons I have outlined above. If you said something like this, people would assume that you are either foreign or trying to make some obscure grammatical joke. A native would be more likely to say "Tax reductions were promised by the government" – JavaLatte Nov 2 '17 at 7:47
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  • Somebody promised to tell him the truth.
  • He was promised to be told the truth. (passive voice)

There's nothing wrong with the second sentence that is the passive of the first one.

The sentence consists of two verbs (actions).

The active infinitive "to tell" has been changed to the passive infinitive "to be told". You do so when the doer of the first action is also the doer of the second action. However, when the receiver of the first action is the doer of the second action, you don't change the active infinitive into passive infinitive. Look at the following sentences:

  • He asked me to tell him the truth.
  • I was asked to tell him the truth. (passive voice)
  • How about "the truth was promised to be told to me by somebody" ? :-) What distinguishes these two passive forms? – nodakai Jan 31 '16 at 8:21
  • I think it's also OK. In this sentence, emphasis is on the truth. – Khan Jan 31 '16 at 14:58
  • "true" should be "truth" in the second example -- I tried to edit but it won't accept a 2 character edit! – Epanoui Apr 7 '17 at 15:28
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Yes. Your construction is correct.

  • Could you please explain why? – Chenmunka Jan 29 '16 at 15:41
  • We are asked by Azhar Ali: 'If it is not correct, please tell me what is the reason.' We are not asked to explain why it is correct. – Great Crosby Jan 29 '16 at 16:43
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    An "answer" that only says "yes" or "no" is not a very useful one, because no one reading it is going to learn anything beyond "yes" or "no". – stangdon Jan 29 '16 at 16:56
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    @Great Crosby, the reason why an explanation should be given (impliedly needed) is... Other people around the globe may find it compelling to know the same. Well, we have our personal preferences in answering, I won't agree nor disagree regarding the way you answered the question. Just want to share with you that this site is about extending help and knowledge not only to the person who asked, but also to those who have the proclivity to learn. – shin Jan 30 '16 at 4:54
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    ELL stackexchange strongly prefers that answers give context and explanation for the validity of the answer instead of merely a yes/no, even if the OP expresses their question in that form. Arguably a question only asking for a yes/no isn't the best format for the site. – eques Sep 14 '16 at 17:34
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Somebody promised to tell him the truth

Could potentially become a passive expression as:

He was promised to be told the truth

I say "could" because the first sentence doesn't indicate that the person who is supposed to be told the truth is also the one promised the truth. For example:

(1) Bob promised Alice to tell Charlie the truth

compared to

(2) Bob promised Charlie to tell him the truth

Either of those sentences would match "Someone promised to tell him the truth"

The passive of (1) would be

Alice was promised (by Bob) that Charlie would be told the truth

The passive of (2) would be

(a) Charlie was promised (by Bob) to be told the truth

or

(b) Charlie was promised (by Bob) that he would be told the truth

While (a) is possible, it's more likely that something like (b) would be used. Note also that the active versions, the person promising must be the same as the person telling the truth, but in the passive versions the person telling the truth could be different from the person promising (but the person being promised is also the person hearing the truth)

He was promised to be told the truth

This is a sentence which could be understood, but you are far more likely to see the active version.

  • "Charlie was promised (by Bob) to be told the truth" <-- This sentence in ungrammatical in English :( – Araucaria Apr 17 '17 at 10:23
  • Ungrammatical how? And according to what definition of "English"? – eques Apr 21 '17 at 21:09
  • I agree with Araucaria. The (by Bob) part makes it ungrammatical. – SovereignSun Nov 1 '17 at 5:33
  • Passive constructions in general are allowed to have a "by" preposition phrase indicating the agent of the verb. This certainly is grammatical, even if it's not likely to be used. The "to be told the truth" may be an unlikely construct to have a passive agent specified, but that doesn't ipso facto make it ungrammatical – eques Nov 1 '17 at 13:52
  • Neither @Araucaria nor SovereignSun provide any reason why they suppose it to be ungrammatical. – eques Nov 1 '17 at 13:53

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