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I have a question about passive agentless-impersonal construction in Russian.

Consider this following sentence:

в результате рейдов по поиску геев около 40 человек пропали и до 20 были убиты

To my understanding, this sentence is agentless and impersonal, as indicated by the lack of noun in instrumental case, lets say, "полицией"; and as indicated by the verb "были" and the participle "убиты", which marks this sentence as a passive construction (therefore allowing for an agent to be added in the instrumental case, which, however, is omitted here).

However, "человек" here is in the nominative, followed by a verb agreeing with it, "пропали", denoting that it's an active construction.

My question: can this be considered a passive agentless impersonal sentence?

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  • "I am sure that passive sentences supposed to have no subjects" - Why do you think so?!
    – Bruno
    Commented Apr 14 at 16:18
  • For this sentence, its because the noun человек agrees with the verb пропали, this is an active construction @Bruno
    – pindakazen
    Commented Apr 14 at 16:24
  • It seems you didn't understand my question: I don't know why you assume that passive sentences have no subjects. For instance, Письмо написано Машой. is a passive sentence with a subject (Письмо).
    – Bruno
    Commented Apr 14 at 17:16
  • Thanks for claryfing your question, there is a mistake in my explanation. I should have said that the subject should have been replaced by the object in the active construction @Bruno.
    – pindakazen
    Commented Apr 14 at 17:26

1 Answer 1

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here "человек" is in the nominative, followed by a verb agreeing with it, "пропали".

In the sentence you cited, человек is in the genitive plural. There's a number of nouns (mostly, names of fruits, ethnicities, and units of measure), whose nominative singular and genitive plural forms are the same: апельсин, грузин, ампер etc. Человек is one of them.

The clause 20 человек пропали does have the (compound) subject 20 человек, which is also an agent.

In the clause 20 человек были убиты, the subject is the patient, and there is no agent.

Agentless sentences can be formed with a subject (as the one above), as well as without one: светает; вечереет; меня тошнит etc.

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  • Thank you for the explanation! Its clear now :)
    – pindakazen
    Commented Apr 14 at 17:27
  • I'd like to follow up with a question, for the compound subject (CS) 40 человек, does it also make the CS an agent and a subject (patient) at the same time?
    – pindakazen
    Commented Apr 14 at 17:40
  • @pindakazen: in 40 человек пропали, there's no patient, and the subject is the agent. In 20 человек были убиты, there is no agent, and the subject is the patient.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Apr 14 at 17:57
  • Thank you for the explanation. I have checked that пропасть is an intransitive verb :)
    – pindakazen
    Commented Apr 14 at 18:05

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