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VERBS : What is a Verb? : Verbs - Person & Number : Shall / Will (usage) : Active Voice : Passive Voice : Verb Tenses : Rules for Verb Tenses : Mood : Imperative Mood : Indicative Mood : Subjunctive Mood : Intransitive Verbs : Transitive Verbs : Linking Verbs : Most Troublesome Verbs

What is Active and Passive Voice?

Active and Passive VoiceVoice is a change in the form of a transitive verb which shows if the subject acts or is acted upon.

The active voice shows that the subject names the actor.

The passive voice shows that the subject names the thing acted upon.

We have learned that an intransitive verb indicates action that involves only the subject, and a transitive verb indicates action as passing from the doer to a thing. A sentence with a transitive verb sometimes makes the doer the subject such as: "John hits the ball."

Sometimes a transitive verb makes the thing affected as the subject, such as: "The ball is hit by John." This difference in the form of the transitive verb to indicate if the subject acts or receives the action is known as Voice. If the verb indicates that the subject is the doer of the action, we refer to the sentence as being written in Active Voice; but if the verb indicates the subject receives the action, then we refer to the sentence as being written in Passive Voice.

He built a house A house was built by him
He has built a house A house has been built by him
He will build a house A house will be built by him

These pairs of sentences express the same idea, but the form of expression is different. The first column represents the subject as doing the action (the direct object house receives the action). These verbs are in the active voice.

The second column represents the subject house as receiving the action of the verb (the doer is expressed by the phrase by him.) The subjects do not express action (they are passive) but have something done to them. The verbs in these sentences are in the passive voice.

It is evident that only transitive verbs have a passive voice because they are the only verbs that have direct objects.

More Examples

EX.— I fed the dog. (active voice)

EX.— The dog was fed by me. (passive voice)

The first verb, fed, shows the subject represents the doer of the action and the second form, was fed, shows the subject names the thing acted upon.

This change in the form and the use of the verb is called voice. The first form is called the active voice; and the second, the passive voice.

The passive voice is a convenient form to use when we wish to assert an action without naming the doer of the action.

EX.— "I paid for six apples." (active voice)
EX.— "The six apples were paid by me." (passive voice)

The active voice is usually a more forcible form of statement than the passive.

Be careful not to confuse passive voice with the past tense. The passive voice has nothing to do with the time of action, but simply shows that the subject is acting or receives the action. In the sentence, "Brian gave the phone number," "gave" is past tense but not in the passive voice; but in the sentence, "The phone number is given by Brian," "is given" is in the passive voice but not in the past tense. If we say, ''The phone number was given by Brian," then "was given" is in both the past tense and the passive voice.

Difficulties in Voice

(1) An intransitive verb followed by a preposition is often used in the passive. The object of the preposition becomes the subject of the verb.

Everybody laughed at me. I was laughed at by everybody.
He has tampered with this computer. This computer has been tampered with.
The car ran over my foot. My foot was run over by the car.

NOTE— In the above table, we treat the preposition like an ending attached to the verb to make it transitive. In other words, we treat laughed at, tampered with, etc., as compound verbs, and the object of the preposition is the object of the compound. In the passive voice, this object becomes the subject and the preposition (now lacking an object) remains attached to the verb. The passive construction is well established, but not always obvious.

(2) The passive form of some verbs—choosing, calling, naming, making, and thinking—may be followed by a predicate nominative.

(predicate objective)
(predicate nominative)
We elected Brian principal. Brian was elected principal.
The native people called the stranger friend. The stranger was called friend by the native people.
They called him dummy. He was called dummy.

NOTE— In the active voice, these verbs may take two objects referring to the same person or thing—a direct object and a predicate objective. In the passive, the direct object becomes the subject, and the predicate objective becomes a predicate nominative, agreeing with the subject.

(3) The verb ask, which may take two direct objects—the person and the thing— sometimes retains its second object in the passive construction.

We asked him his opinion. He was asked his opinion.

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VERBS : What is a Verb? : Verbs - Person & Number : Shall / Will (usage) : Active Voice : Passive Voice : Verb Tenses : Rules for Verb Tenses : Mood : Imperative Mood : Indicative Mood : Subjunctive Mood : Intransitive Verbs : Transitive Verbs : Linking Verbs : Most Troublesome Verbs

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