• We traveled 60 miles.
  • 'Distance traveled by light'
  • He worked nine hours.
  • 'Hours worked by employees'

Q1. In Oxford dictionary, phrases representing distance following the verb travel are classified as 'adverbial noun', not object. (As the 'nine hours' in the 3th sentence is.) Then, 'Distance' is not Semantically the object of the verb 'travel'. So is 'hours' to 'worked' in the 3th phrase. Then, in 2nd and 4th sentences How could they be used as passive voice? How should I understand the phrases above?

Q2. If they are not passive voice, are they just past participle? I also wonder if intransitive verb could be used as 'be + past participle'.

Sorry for my poor English. Thank you in advance!!

2 Answers 2


You are overthinking the passive voice and objects of a transitive verb. To work and to travel could be used both as a transitive and intransitive verb. The characteristics of this kind of verb is it is very flexible in terms of having a direct object or prepositional phrase as its complement. For example,

He worked for nine hours. vs He worked nine hours.

For nine hours is a prepositional phrase and nine hours could be an adverbial noun. But the question is "why can't nine hours be an object of the verb to work?" They obviously can. Otherwise, you can't passivize the sentence.

Distance (which is/was) traveled by light

Hours (which were/are) worked by employees

All the above examples have so called "whiz deletion (omission of a relative pronoun + the verb to be)" and they are idiomatic expressions. If you contrast,

Distance for which light travels (traveled)

Hours for which employees work (worked)

You could notice that the former phrases are more concise.

Nobody writes "working hours" as "hours that workers spend for working". Why? Because the two words working hours are enough to express the longer phrase.

If you replace to work with to spend, it would be easier to understand.

He spent nine hours. vs Nine hours were (or was) spent.

"Hours spent by employees" would not be concrete enough compared with "Hours worked by employees" because to spend has a broader meaning than to work.

English is a flexible language. You should not care so much about this kind of structure as there is no hard-and-fast rule in terms of passivizing a sentence. There is just a general rule.

This room can sleep six guests.

This means six guests can sleep in the room. Can you passivize this sentence to:

?Six guests can be slept by this room.

A native speaker would say, "what?" Not all the transitive verbs could be passivized. In addition, an object that looks like an adverbial noun could be passivized. Why? It could be considered as an object of a transitive verb.


So is 'hours' to 'worked' in the 4th phrase.

Hours is a noun, worked is a post-positive adjective modifying the noun hours.

How could they be the passive voice?

Passive voice is a form of the verb to be plus the past participle form of the verb. Since no form of to be apppears in either sentence, passive voice isn't being used or a factor in meaning.

How should I understand the phrases above?

Words that answer the question how or how long are typically adverbs, because they modify a verb.

I also wonder if intransitive verb could be used as 'be + past participle'.

No, because there's no object to turn into a subject (that's the whole point of the passive voice).

John drove the car (car is object of drove) - The car was driven by John.

The books fell on the floor (fell is intransitive) - The floor were fallen by ??? (does not work at all).

  • But I think 'The books were fallen' is correct sentence. (Maybe it is because fallen is adjective. I just wonder if other intransitive verbs could be used as 'be + past participle'.) It was not really my question. I've revised a little.
    – J. S. PARK
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 5:22
  • @J. S. PARK "The books were fallen" doesn't work in English, except perhaps if you are trying to write poetically. With "fallen" you would have to use either "have" or "has/had" as opposed to "were". If you are determined to use a passive form, you could use "were felled", but this is really only seen in reference to trees (as in lumber) or as a sort of archaic way to say that people had been killed, especially by means of disease or war. With books, it would sound very unusual. Commented May 31, 2016 at 14:36

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