“Is it proved that …?” vs. “Has it been proven that …?”

Searching The New York Times, I found 22,100 results for “is it proved” and, therefore, I argue that that phrase is likely correct English.

But on History Stack Exchange a user edited the following sentence, written by me, “Is it proved that the United States didn’t have a third atomic bomb to drop over Japan?” transforming it into this other sentence, “Has it been proven that the United States didn’t have a third atomic bomb to drop over Japan?

The user has left this comment “… corrected minor errors with spelling and grammar.

In reference to the context where those sentences had been written, can anybody explain why the sentence I wrote is wrong and, particularly, why the proofread version is correct or more appropriate in comparison with mine?


In this case, the string is it proved is a subject-auxiliary inversion of it is proved, which is a combination of dummy it with the simple passive is proved. The dummy subject it is inserted during extraposition, taking the place of the content clause, which is moved to the end of the sentence:

[That X is true] is proved. →  It is proved [that X is true].

We can contrast the simple is proven with the perfect has been proved:

[That X is true] has been proved. →  It has been proved [that X is true].

There’s one complication: this particular verb has two past participles, proved and proven. That means we can write any of the following:

  simple passive                perfect passive
  ---------------------         -------------------------
  It is proved                  It has been proved
  It is proven                  It has been proven

All of these are grammatical, and the proved and proven versions are equivalent. The real question isn’t proved versus proven, but simple versus perfect. Even though both versions are grammatical, they aren’t used in the same situations. The simple version is used when I am talking about where something is proved, in a conditional, or (rarely) if something is proved right now.

  1. “Where is the theorem proved?” “It is proved in Appendix B.”
  2. “If and when the theory is proven, you’ll get your grant money.”
  3. “It will be proved in five seconds. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. It is proven.(spoken, rare)

The perfect version is used when you’re talking about something proved in the past, or whether something has been proven in the past:

  1. “I’m not sure if this is a good idea.” “Don’t worry, it’s been proven to work.”
  2. The Theory of Evolution has been proven.
  3. Has it been proved that the United States didn’t have a third atomic bomb to drop over Japan?”

Note that outside of this context, proved and proven aren’t always equivalent. Proven is favored in attributive uses (a proven fact, not *a proved fact) and in certain set phrases (innocent until proven guilty). The preterite is always proved, not proven (I proved him wrong, but never *I proven him wrong).

In this case, I agree with the edit. The change to proven is perhaps unnecessary, but to my ear it sounds better, so I don’t object to that, either. Has it been proved would also be fine.

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