Voice (grammar)

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Voice in grammar expresses the way the action (or state) that the verb expresses relates to the subject or object. [1] In English grammar, there are two voices: active and passive. When a clause is in the active voice, the subject is the doer of the action. When a clause is in the passive voice, the subject is the receiver of the action. The active voice is much more commonly used than the passive voice.[2]

  • Active voice: Jane chose the furniture.
  • Passive voice: The furniture was chosen by Jane.

The Passive Voice[change | change source]

Forming the Passive Voice[change | change source]

In passive clauses, the object is moved to the subject position. Generally, only transitive verbs can be transformed into the passive voice, because only transitive verbs have objects.[3] Verbs in the passive voice are formed using the past participle of the main verb with the auxiliary verb conjugated into the appropriate tense.[2]

Here are examples of how to form passive voice sentences of the main tenses in English.

  1. Present simple tense: Subject + am/is/are + past participle (English is spoken in many countries around the world.)
  2. Past simple tense: Subject + was/were + past participle (My book was published last year.)
  3. Present continuous tense: Subject + am/is/are + being + past participle (The car is being repaired now.)
  4. Past continuous tense: Subject + was/were + being + past participle (The car was being repaired.)
  5. Present perfect tense: Subject + has/have + been + past participle (The flowers have been watered.)
  6. Past perfect tense: Subject + had + been + past participle (The flowers had been watered.)
  7. Modals: Subject + modal + be + past participle (The flowers will be watered in the morning.)

Reasons for using the Passive Voice[change | change source]

The passive voice changes the focus from the doer (or agent) of the action onto the receiver of the action. There are many reasons to do this. Sometimes we don't know who the agent is:

  • The store was robbed last night.
  • A package was left on the steps.

Sometimes the receiver is more important than the agent:

  • Julio was hit by a car.
  • The robber was arrested this evening.

By agent[change | change source]

By agent (doer of the action) is usually stated at the end of the passive sentence. However, it can be omitted when it is unknown, unimportant or understood from the context. It is common to omit by agent when the doer of the action is a personal pronoun (I, We, They, etc.) or an indefinite pronoun (Someone, Somebody, Something).

  • Active voice: They produce cars in this factory.
  • Passive voice: Cars are produced in this factory.
  • Active voice: Somebody ate my pizza.
  • Passive voice: My pizza was eaten.

When a passive question begins with Who or What asking about the subject, by cannot be omitted.

  • Active voice: Who created this design?
  • Passive voice: Who was this design created by?

References[change | change source]

  1. "Voice | grammar". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-05-11.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "The Passive Voice in English | Ginseng English | Learn English". Ginseng English. Retrieved 2020-05-11.
  3. McArthur, Tom (ed) 1992. The Oxford companion to the English language. Oxford University Press.