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Passive Voice

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L. Manke

on 5 December 2013

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Transcript of Passive Voice

Passive Voice
What was voice again?

grammatical category

relationship between grammatical subject
of the verb and denoted action of the verb
active or passive
Form of Passive
Which verbs take passives?

intransitive vs. transitive verbs

A Presentation by Nadja, Julia, Luisa, Maximilian & Sebastian.
1) Introduction
What was "voice" again?
Active vs. Passive
What do we need the passive voice for?
2) Passive Voice Formation
by agent
3) Usage
Which verbs take passives?
4) Differences between the German & the English passive
frequent mistakes
5) Comparison of two schoolbooks
Camden Town vs. English G2000
6) Instruction Model
7) Sources
You are released now
(by us) :P
'Rediscover Grammar', David Crystal
'Besser in Englisch, Grammatik', Phyllis Driver
'Grammatik für die Schule - Englisch', Lutz Walther
+ finite form of

Past Participle
(3rd column of irregular verbs)-

A letter was written

When rewriting active sentences in passive voice, note the following:

 the object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence

 the finite form of the verb is changed (to be + past participle)

 the subject of the active sentence becomes the object of the passive sentence (or is dropped)

Features of Passive - by agent

that is "acting" can be mentioned

- called "

- used with the preposition "

-> only used ->
to mention additionally information

Different possibilities when using the passive with the preposition "by":

 The accident was caused by a cyclist.

→ addition ‘by a cyclist’ -> necessary
 useful information -> left out
 -> sentence incomplete

• My wallet was stolen.

→ unnecessary to know who stole it
-> be expressed "by someone"

Normally no pronouns (me, you, him, it etc.) are used as "agent"!

- not possible:
The door was opened
by you

Passive Sentences with Two Objects
Rewriting an active sentence with two
objects in passive voice means:

one of the two objects -> the subject

other one remains object

passive auxiliary is usually a form of
"get" can be used -> attention on the usually unpleasant event affecting the subject
I was kicked at the match.
I got kicked at the match.

"get" - passives do not usually have an agent

"I was hurt by the car
"I got hurt"

"I got hurt by the car"


avoided in formal style
even in informal style -> less frequent than be - passives

Jack fought Michael and was beaten
(by Michael!)

sometimes -> not possible to say what the agent is:

Order has been restored in the USA.

(by the government=? the army? the police?)

ambiguity may be deliberate, as with this agent omission by a sheepish 10 - year - old:
The cup's been smashed.

1.) The highest bail
which has ever been
is ever
would ever be
asked for a criminal suspect was 46,5 million dollars.

2.) This suspect, Antonio de Angeli,
accused of
was accused of
would accuse of
a huge salad oil swindle.

3.) The longest known legal battle
was fought
would fought
in Poona, India, from 1205 to 1966.

Comparison to German
- to point out or to put stress on a certain action
- Subject is only something or someone that the action refers to.
Use of passive voice in German:

Das Brot


main verb

+ Partizip II
Sources of errors
L1-to-L2 transfer
• Passive sentence maintains subject of active sentence
• Auxilary verb “werden” carries 2 meanings:
1) auxiliary verb to express form of “be”
(E.g. “Sie werden beobachtet” > “They are being observed)
2) future reference (E.g. “Sie werden erwischt werden”)
• In German: Use of words that take dative case like „Es“, “Man”
> Impersonal Passive (E.g. “Es wird uns geholfen./Man hilft uns.“)

Why do we use passive voice?

focus attention on the person or thing affected by the action

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that
all men
are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Declaration of Independence

Some signs in our environment…

1) The actor is unknown:

My car was stolen last week.

2) The actor is irrelevant:

'Do you want a lift?' 'No thanks, I’m being collected.'

3) When it is obvious who the agent is:

My mom was born in 1965.

4) When hiding the actor’s identity, not offending him directly:

The coffee machine wasn’t switched off yesterday.

5) When people in general are the agents:

All the Beatles records can be borrowed from the central library.

6) General truth

Rules are made to be broken.

7) Emphasis on a person or thing acted on:

Insulin was first discovered in 1921 by researchers at the University of Toronto.

8) Scientific genre

The sodium hydroxide was dissolved in water. This solution was then titrated with hydrochloric acid.
Camden Town vs. English G2000
The earthquake happened on March 11, 2011 in Japan. 
The earthquake was happened on March 11, 2011 in Japan.

-to live -to stay
-to belong -to sleep

never take passive!
can appear either as active or as passive
The tsunami wave killed hundreds of people. 
Hundreds of people were killed by the tsunami wave .

state verbs = transitive
cannot be used in passive

Examples: belong, have (own), lack, resemble, suit, consist….
I have a car.  A car is had by me.
Marry resembles Ellen.  Ellen is resembled by Mary.
some state verbs also have active meanings
can take passive

=stative meaning no passive

=active meaning can be made passive

Someone smelled the flower. (transitive) 
The flower was smelled.

The flower smelled sweet. (intransitive) 
no passive!

Subject & object have same meaning passive is blocked:
Mary saw herself in the mirror.  Herself was seen in the mirror by Mary.
The truck weighed 2.5 tons.
They weighed the truck before loading the cargo.
The truck was weighed before loading the cargo.

Prepositional verbs:
Someone broke into the pet shop. 

The pet shop was broken into.
get- passives avoided in formal style
(also in informal style less frequent than be- passives)

by- phrase usually possible, however:
omitted in 80% of passive clauses
usually ‘state the obvious’

General facts about usage
passive sentences often sound wordy
& indirect
tend to be longer than active sentences
'Never use the passive where you
can use the active'.
(George Orwell)
Active vs. Passive
How are animals cared for?
Instruction Model
Other copulas: to be, to appear, to seem, to feel
e.g. sensory verbs
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