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11. Verbs Which Cannot be Used in the Passive

Not all the verbs have passive forms. Intransitive verbs cannot be used in the passive: since they do not have objects, there is nothing to act as the subject of a passive verb. Some transitive verbs cannot be used in the passive, at least in certain of their meanings. Most of these are ‘stative’ verbs (verbs which refer to states, not actions, and which often have no progressive forms). They are fit, have, lack, resemble, suit.

I was having a bath. (But not: A bath was being had...)

My shoes don’t fit me. (But not: I’m not fitted by my shoes.)

This boy lacks tact. (But not: Tact is lacked...)

Not all prepositional verbs can be used in passive structures. For example, we can say That chair is not to be sat on or The children have been very well looked after, but we can’t say I was agreed with by everybody or The room was walked into. There are no clear rules about this; the students should learn, one by one, which expressions can be used in the passive.

12. Verbs + Object + Bare Infinitive

A. few verbs are followed, in the active, by an object and an infinitive without to. They are hear, help, make, see. In the passive the to-infinitive is used.

I saw him come out of the house. He was seen to come out of the house.

They made him tell them everything. He was made to tell everything.

let, however, is used without to:

They let us go. We were let go.


1. Modal Auxiliary Verbs: General

There is a group of auxiliary verbs can, could, may, might, must, will, would, shall, should, ought and need which are often called modal auxiliaries. They have several points in common which make them quite different from other verbs.

A. They are not used (except sometimes in the negative) to talk about things which are definitely happening, or have definitely happened. Modal verbs are used when we say that we expect things to happen, or that events are possible, or necessary, or improbable, or impossible, or when we say that things did not happen, or that we are not sure whether they happened.

He can’t swim.

The cat could be in the bathroom or kitchen or basement.

I may translate it tomorrow if I have time.

Your mother might have told me you were in hospital.

What would you do if you have a year off?

I think you should have come earlier.

B. Modal verbs have no -s in the third person singular; questions and negatives are made without do; they are followed by the infinitive without to of other verbs (except for ought).

You should pay but You ought to pay.

C. Modal verbs have no infinitives or participles and therefore cannot be used in the continuous tenses (other expressions are used instead, when necessary).

I’d like to be able to drive. (Not: to can drive)

D. A modal verb always requires an infinitive, though sometimes this is understood but not mentioned.

Can you understand? - Yes, I can (understand).