passive voice of "possess" and "have"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by JungKim, Oct 4, 2013.

  1. JungKim Senior Member

    I understand that "have" may not be used in passive voice when it means "possess".
    For example,
    (1) I have a car.:tick:
    (2) A car is had by me. :cross:

    Now I wonder if "possess" itself may be used in passive voice in the same context.
    (3) I possess a car.:tick:
    (4) A car is possessed by me.

    Please tell me whether (4) is possible.
  2. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    "Is possessed" has a very different common meaning in English. To be possessed means when a spirit takes over someone's body, as in "possessed by demons". :) I don't think you want to haunt your car.
  3. boozer Senior Member

    'A car is possessed by me' is a bizarre statement that seems to suggest you are an evil spirit that has seized control over a car. :D Now seriously, I do not think have and possess can work in the passive voice the way you want them to...

    PS. Cross posted. Even a 5-minute gap is possible if your internet is slow enough. :D
  4. JungKim Senior Member

    I do understand that there is such a connotation to "be possessed" as is suggested by JamesM and boozer.
    But when the context is clearly there, is it not possible that "be possessed" is construed in its literal meaning?
  5. dadane Senior Member

    New Zealand
    English (London/Essex)
    It is a matter of usage. 'Is possessed' is generally used one way and one way only.

    If you replace 'possess' with 'own' you get:
    (3) I own a car.:tick:
    (4) A car is owned by me.

    Even though the second statement is completely correct, it would never actually be said. 'The/that car is owned by me' are reasonably likely, but not the indefinite version; 'I own a car' is adequate for the purpose.
  6. JungKim Senior Member

    Would 'That/the car is possessed by her' be possible then?
  7. dadane Senior Member

    New Zealand
    English (London/Essex)
    Yes, if you want to say that she is somehow 'haunting' the car. ;)
  8. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    I don't think so, Jung.

    It's not a matter of personal pronoun: if you change "me" to "her" you still obtain what grammarians call "a well-formed sentence" but not a real utterance, ie, a string of words which would be used by a native speaker of the language, in a real circumstance, to a real listener, for a real purpose, etc.
    If you want to inform your wife that the flat you've been shown has a fireplace in the living-room, you're most unlikely to say "A fireplace is in the living-room" — which is certainly a well-formed sentence in the sense that it contains a Subject and a Predicate — but you'll rather say "There's a fireplace in the living-room".

  9. bennymix

    bennymix Senior Member

    Ontario, Canada. I grew up in US.
    English (American).
    Note to Jung,
    'That/the car is possessed by her' does not present a grammatical problem, in my opinion, even assuming one is NOT talking abou demons. Indeed, the demonic case tends to show the grammar is OK.

    I agree with Giorgio that these passive forms are just not heard and don't sound real and natural.
    One can try to contruct a passage, but it takes an effort. "There was a protracted dispute over who would take possession of the house, her, or her uncle. The house finally was awarded to her by the court, and was taken into her possession, in 1978. It was possessed by her, for the following ten years, until her death, at which point the uncle brought the case back to court and won posssession of the house, for himself, in 1990."

    One issue here is that 'possess' is not so common in ordinary talk, and hence a specific context, like the legal one, above, is helpful take the edge off its unfamiliarity.
  10. JungKim Senior Member

    I did some searching and would like to share some of the excerpts from various media.
    What's the difference between these examples and mine?

  11. boozer Senior Member

    Examples 1-5: those are not typical uses of the passive voice. In fact, I am not even sure I would see them as passive voice examples. Those are past participles standing in post-modification of the noun that precedes them - stocks, power, skills, etc. I think all examples are good English.

    I have to think about the grammar structure of example 6. I see the infinitive 'to be' used in a very specific sense, as in designed/expected/supposed to be.

    Your statement, on the other hand, represents an attempt to use the typical passive voice in a simple statement, where it is not at all necessary and sounds weird...
  12. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    I completely agree with boozer.

    As regards example #6, I'm inclined to believe that the meaning of "possess" here can be expressed by "to succeed in having sexual intercourse with". The verb is transitive and hence can become passive.

  13. bennymix

    bennymix Senior Member

    Ontario, Canada. I grew up in US.
    English (American).
    I thought of one real-life natural example. "Gates was possessed by the idea that a 'home computer' should be in every home."

    Here's one of many Google results for the phrase in red:

    [h=3]Works of Leo Tolstoy - Google Books Result[​IMG][/h]
    Leo Tolstoy, ‎MobileReference - 2007 - ‎Fiction
    I quite understood that he was not really afraid of my health, but he was possessed by the idea that it would not be good for us to be in the country;
  14. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    However, to match the OP question it would have to be "Gates possessed the idea that..." and "An idea was possessed by Gates that a 'home computer' should be in every home." It still sounds odd to me when phrased that way.

    In your example, bennymix, Gates is actually possessed/taken over/consumed by the idea. It's a valid use of "to be possessed" as in "haunted/controlled/in the grip of".
  15. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
  16. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    One word -> context. :thumbsup:
  17. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)
    I would say "The car is in her possession."
  18. JungKim Senior Member

    This is a very interesting observation.
    But what if I make a relative clause out of any of the first five examples of mine?
    For example, the first example from Chicago Tribune could be "The conclusion of such a series of developments could be the regulation and legalization of the conventional weapon stocks that are possessed by Syria and Iran..."
    I assume that this relative-clause structure is acceptable English, but do you think it is?
  19. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Yes, the structure is grammatical, but as I see it, "possessed by" is only used here because it is less ambiguous than plain "of". Adding more words does not help disambiguate but instead leaves us wondering what usual meaning of possess the writer might be thinking of.
  20. JungKim Senior Member

    It seems to native speakers at least semantically that "possess" in the expanded structure of the relative clause is less readily construed to mean "own" than is the one in the original structure of "possessed by".

    Syntactically, however, shouldn't the expanded structure be equivalent to the original structure insofar as the tense of the expanded structure is properly provided in accordance with the context?
  21. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Yeah, but native speakers don't think in terms like that, they just speak and comment on what "sounds right" and what they are used to :eek: "Technically right" doesn't always meaning unambiguously understood by all. One can only learn so much (from books and forum environments such as this one) without becoming a practitioner in the land of the target language.
  22. kyrintethron Senior Member

    English - America
    I think that Julian truly hit the nail on the head with "what sounds right" is not necessarily "what is right", and English is egregiously guilty of this phenomenon. Syntactically and grammatically "a car is possessed by me" is correct. Does it sound funny? Yes. But that's because contemporarily, we've frequently come to associate the word "possess" with the inhabitation of people or things that people can "go into" with demons and ghosts. This sounds funny, because native English speakers can imagine a demon "possessing" a car.

    However, if you said "that apple is possessed by me", you're less likely to draw the conclusion from listeners that you've somehow crept your spirit within that apple as you are to simply have ownership of it. Now does it sound funny? Absolutely. "To have" is simply more commonly used that "to possess" (except in the demonic/ghastly sense).

    Now of course there are many exceptions: "to possess weapons", "to possess power", "to possess skills", etc. But you should look at these as stock phrases, as opposed to evidence. For instance, the word "yore" essentially has one usage today in the English language: "in days of yore". That's it. "Possess" is not that restricted, but as long as you're going to be speaking to people from this time period, it's best to recognize that in some cases certain words can be used, and in others, you will sound strange.

    I think as a guideline, you can comfortably possess something intangible (skill, power, romance, etc.), and you can sometimes possess something that can't be entered (weapons, fruit, non-hollow objects, etc.). But beware when talking about things that humans can get into (houses, cars, hotels, forests, etc.), because people may think that you're talking about the esoteric, lol.

  23. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    I think you are trying to create a universal rule without reference to context. The verb "possess1" changes its nuanced meaning with context.

    "This children's book is set in a street in which one house is owned by a vampire, another by a werewolf, a third by a good fairy but the land on which the street stands is possessed by a demon." Here, you cannot discern for certain what "possessed" means, no matter what structure you use.

    1and many others
  24. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I don't think a participial phrase has to be analyzed as a reduced relative clause. A present participle does not always suggest progressive aspect, and a past participle, even a past participle with passive meaning, is not the same as passive voice. There can indeed be a semantic change when adding "that are" or "which were".

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