Passive Voice (definition)
The Passive voice describes clauses in which the noun normally expected to appear as the direct object of a transitive verb is expressed as the subject, while the usual subject argument is optionally expressed obliquely. Usually, this means that the noun which is the patient becomes the subject, while the more agent-like noun becomes optional. The passive voice is often thought to be the result of a syntactic operation which takes a clause in the (default) active voice (see example 1a) and produces a passive version (example 1b).
- 1a) Jones painted a picture.
- 1b) A picture was painted (by Jones).
Note that both (1a) and (1b) have essentially the same meaning, in the sense that if one is true then the other is true, and if one is false then the other must be as well.
Note also that active and passive voice are grammatical distinctions, not semantic ones. Sentences in the active voice need not be "active" in any general sense, nor do sentences in the passive voice necessarily denote a "passive" or "non-active" event. Nor are sentences in the active voice necessarily less vague about agency than passive sentences.
- Language Log Articles about Active and Passive: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/index.php?s=passive
- wikipedia article on Voice: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voice_(grammar)