Passive voice

Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Thundair, Sep 8, 2017.

  1. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

    Jun 5, 2016
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    That's interesting! I always have my names from the beginning, but as I've mentioned before I'm a super linear writer. I should really loosen up one of these days. ;)
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Mar 9, 2010
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    Those are not passive voice.
  3. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

    Nov 19, 2016
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    Chicago, IL.


    Passive: Jenny (subject) was hit (Helping verb) by a bus (Adverb Phrase). See how the subject is acted upon? That is what makes it Passive.

    Active: The bus (Subject) hit (active verb) Jenny (Direct object). See how the subject is doing the action? Active voice.

    Also, note the grammatic construction of the two sentences. I can't say with certainty that all passive voice sentences are made with subject+Helping verb+ Adverb prepositional phrase construction, but the ones that are coming to mind are.

    I also want to note that a character being passive in a scene is not the same as passive voice.

    OurJud likes this.
  4. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Apr 18, 2017
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    Currently Reading::
    "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath
    I thought it was cute that one letter changed so much. Maybe I shouldn't have done that. :)

    I'll highlight the verb phrase:

    The cat was freed. (passive past tense. "Cat" receives the action.)
    Compare that to the active voice. The subject has to be the one doing the acting, not simply receiving it.

    The cat freed itself. (active past tense. "Itself" receives the action.)​

    In the passive line, the freeing is an action. It is an act you can see happening, as if someone just let the cat out and the action refers to this invisible actor. Do the old zombie trick.

    The cat was freed by zombies. (passive past tense)
    The cat freed itself by zombies. (not passive, the grammar fails)​

    And that's the nature of "freed" as an action. I can see how a person could convince themselves it's an adjective though. If the cat were roaming the city and you describe it as being set free. . . a "freed cat" compared to a "caged cat," for example. I haven't read the posts since yours. I hope people aren't arguing about it. There are actually two solutions, and either works. (and I think that's what you're saying) Context, again. Grammar isn't cut and dry and sometimes even simple sentences can be seen from two equally valid points. If I had the surrounding paragraph in there then there might be a preferred solution. I was talking about the actual act of freeing though, which is a verb.

    The other line:

    The cat was free. (linking-verb, past tense. Not passive.)​

    The only verb is "was." You can't think of "free" as an action there because it's just describing a noun. It's an adjective, so you're looking at was as a linking-verb.

    There are also tenses that use was:

    The cat was freeing itself from the trap.​

    Now you have past-continuous tense. No passives. It's an actual active-voice sentence now.

    I suppose the big issue with actives/passives is the indirection of action. It's almost like the sentences are backwards because basic English is SUBJECT-VERB-DIRECTOBJECT, and passive turns that around. (The DO is the SUBJECT.) There has to be a reason for for passives.

    There's also the issue of "was" creeping into every sentence for whatever reason (there are many) and that repetition is not a good one. So you might have a bigger concern there. You can't always lean on the same word even if it's solving ten different problems, only one of which is passive sentences.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2017
  5. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

    May 21, 2009
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    Thanks. That's a clear and precise explanation and the first time the term's meaning has made any sense to me.
  6. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

    Oct 21, 2008
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    Cave of Ice
    Also consider that a function of passive voice is to remove the agent that caused the action from the sentence (assuming you drop the "by zombies" bit). Consider the following:

    Mistakes were made.
    I made mistakes.

    It can work to "absolve" the subject of the action. You see it in business reports/memos/emails all the time. If someone (like the narrator) is trying to hide that they themselves are responsible for something, the passive voice would be an appropriate subtle way of doing it.

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