have improved vs. have been improved

raymondaliasapollyon

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi,

Are the following sentences okay? If one is not, do you know the reason?

a. The alarm clocks have improved to meet different people’s needs.
b. The alarm clocks have been improved to meet different people’s needs.

I'd appreciate your help.
 
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    a. is written in the middle voice. It is the same as "this book reads well/this pen writes smoothly/this car drives badly"
    b. is written in the passive with an implied agent "by the manufacturers"
    c. the active form would be "The manufacturers have improved their alarm clocks."

    They all express the same idea.
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    b sounds better and far more likely. It's saying that someone has improved them. a implies that the clocks improved themselves.

    How about the following?

    Mobile technology has improved considerably in recent years.
    Mobile technology has been improved considerably in recent years.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The only difference is that the first uses an intransitive verb to give a simple statement, whereas the second uses a passive verb to suggest that someone (the manufacturers) have made the improvements.

    Your choice will depend on the context. If you are talking about mobile technology, use the first. If you are talking about manufacturers, use the second.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I'm not at all troubled by the absence of the passive. It's becoming more and more frequent and we are already familiar with similar constructions such as 'the plane flew very low', 'this reads like an advertisement', 'the cake cooked well'.
    It is known as the 'middle voice' when the subject both performs and receives as both subject and agent.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    It's rather a philosophical point. If you think that progress is more or less inevitable, like natural evolution, you will probably prefer the version: "Alarm clocks have improved to meet different people’s needs." (Note that I've deleted "The". We're talking about clocks in general over a period of time.)

    But if you don't have in mind that generalised philosophy of long-term improvement, then "The alarm clocks have been improved to meet different people’s needs" suits your meaning better. You're being very explicit that this is the manufacturers' action.

    Sometimes people with the philosophy of long-term improvement will use the verb evolve, which makes their intention very clear.
     
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