Passive voice
Passive voice is a grammatical voice
Voice (grammar)
In grammar, the voice of a verb describes the relationship between the action that the verb expresses and the participants identified by its arguments . When the subject is the agent or doer of the action, the verb is in the active voice...

 common in many of the world's languages. Passive is used in a clause whose subject
Subject (grammar)
The subject is one of the two main constituents of a clause, according to a tradition that can be tracked back to Aristotle and that is associated with phrase structure grammars; the other constituent is the predicate. According to another tradition, i.e...

 expresses the theme
Theta role
In generative grammar , a theta role or θ-role is the formal device for representing syntactic argument structure required syntactically by a particular verb. For example, the verb put requires three arguments...

 or patient
Patient (grammar)
In linguistics, a grammatical patient, also called the target or undergoer, is the participant of a situation upon whom an action is carried out. A patient as differentiated from a theme must undergo a change in state. A theme is denoted by a stative verb, where a patient is denoted by a dynamic...

 of the main verb. That is, the subject undergoes an action or has its state changed. A sentence whose theme is marked as grammatical subject is called a passive sentence. In contrast, a sentence in which the subject has the agent
Agent (grammar)
In linguistics, a grammatical agent is the cause or initiator of an event. Agent is the name of the thematic role...

 role is called an active sentence, and its verb is expressed in active voice
Active voice
Active voice is a grammatical voice common in many of the world's languages. It is the unmarked voice for clauses featuring a transitive verb in nominative–accusative languages, including English and most other Indo-European languages....

. Many languages have both an active and a passive voice; this allows for greater flexibility in sentence construction, as either the semantic agent or patient may take the syntactic role of subject.

Transforming an active verb into a passive verb is a valence-decreasing
Valency (linguistics)
In linguistics, verb valency or valence refers to the number of arguments controlled by a verbal predicate. It is related, though not identical, to verb transitivity, which counts only object arguments of the verbal predicate...

 process ("detransitivizing process"), because it transforms transitive verb
Transitive verb
In syntax, a transitive verb is a verb that requires both a direct subject and one or more objects. The term is used to contrast intransitive verbs, which do not have objects.-Examples:Some examples of sentences with transitive verbs:...

s into intransitive verb
Intransitive verb
In grammar, an intransitive verb is a verb that has no object. This differs from a transitive verb, which takes one or more objects. Both classes of verb are related to the concept of the transitivity of a verb....


The use of passive voice allows speakers to organize stretches of discourse by placing figures other than the agent in subject position. This may be used to foreground
Foregrounding is the practice of making something stand out from the surrounding words or images. It is “the ‘throwing into relief’ of the linguistic sign against the background of the norms of ordinary language.” The term was first associated with Paul Garvin in the 1960s, who used it as a...

 the patient, recipient, or other thematic role
Thematic relation
In a number of theories of linguistics, thematic relations is a term used to express the role that a noun phrase plays with respect to the action or state described by a sentence's verb. For example, in the sentence "Susan ate an apple", Susan is the doer of the eating, so she is an agent; the...

. Passive voice may also be useful when the semantic patient is the topic of on-going discussion. The passive voice may also be used to avoid specifying the agent of an action.

Passive marking

Different languages use various grammatical forms to indicate passive voice.

In some languages, such as Latin
Latin grammar
The grammar of Latin, like that of other ancient Indo-European languages, is highly inflected; consequently, it allows for a large degree of flexibility in choosing word order...

, passive voice is indicated by verb conjugation
Grammatical conjugation
In linguistics, conjugation is the creation of derived forms of a verb from its principal parts by inflection . Conjugation may be affected by person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood, voice, or other grammatical categories...

. A passive suffix
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs...

 on the verb indicates passive voice.
  • Vīnum (ā) servō portātur.
The wine is carried by the servant.

North Germanic languages also use a verb-conjugated passive voice.

  • Vinet bärs av tjänaren.
The wine is carried by the servant.

Similarly, the Austronesian
Austronesian languages
The Austronesian languages are a language family widely dispersed throughout the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, with a few members spoken on continental Asia that are spoken by about 386 million people. It is on par with Indo-European, Niger-Congo, Afroasiatic and Uralic as one of the...

 language Kimaragang Dusun
Dusunic languages
The Dusunic languages are a group of languages spoken by the Bisaya, Dusun, Kadazan, Rungus, and related peoples in the Malaysian province of Sabah on Borneo.-Languages:The languages are divided as follows, per Ethnologue 15:...

 uses an infix
An infix is an affix inserted inside a word stem . It contrasts with adfix, a rare term for an affix attached to the end of a stem, such as a prefix or suffix.-Indonesian:...

, -in-, to indicate passive voice.
root past passive meaning
patay pinatay "was killed"
nakaw ninakaw "was stolen"
garas ginaras "was butchered"

Many languages use impersonal verb
Impersonal verb
In linguistics, an impersonal verb is a verb that cannot take a true subject, because it does not represent an action, occurrence, or state-of-being of any specific person, place, or thing...

s to achieve the same object.

The passive voice in English

English, like some other languages, uses a periphrastic
In linguistics, periphrasis is a device by which a grammatical category or grammatical relationship is expressed by a free morpheme , instead of being shown by inflection or derivation...

 passive. Rather than conjugating directly for voice, English uses the past participle
In linguistics, a participle is a word that shares some characteristics of both verbs and adjectives. It can be used in compound verb tenses or voices , or as a modifier...

 form of the verb plus an auxiliary verb
Auxiliary verb
In linguistics, an auxiliary verb is a verb that gives further semantic or syntactic information about a main or full verb. In English, the extra meaning provided by an auxiliary verb alters the basic meaning of the main verb to make it have one or more of the following functions: passive voice,...

, either be or get, to indicate passive voice.
  • The money was donated to the school.
  • The vase got broken during the fight.

The active voice is the dominant voice in English at large. Many commentators, notably George Orwell
George Orwell
Eric Arthur Blair , better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist...

 in his essay "Politics and the English Language
Politics and the English Language
"Politics and the English Language" is an essay by George Orwell criticizing "ugly and inaccurate" contemporary written English.Orwell said that political prose was formed "to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." Orwell believed...

" and Strunk & White in The Elements of Style
The Elements of Style
The Elements of Style , also known as Strunk & White, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, is a prescriptive American English writing style guide comprising eight "elementary rules of usage", ten "elementary principles of composition", "a few matters of form", a list of forty-nine "words and...

, have urged minimizing use of the passive voice. However, the passive voice has important uses. Jan Freeman of The Boston Globe
The Boston Globe
The Boston Globe is an American daily newspaper based in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Globe has been owned by The New York Times Company since 1993...

states "[a]ll good writers use the passive voice" – including Orwell and Strunk & White themselves, in the sections of their essays criticizing the passive voice.
There is general agreement that the passive voice is useful for emphasis, or when the receiver of the action is more important than the actor.

Adversative passive

Some languages, including several Southeast Asian languages, use a form of passive voice to indicate that an action or event was unpleasant or undesirable. This so-called adversative passive works like the ordinary passive voice in terms of syntactic structure—that is, a theme or instrument acts as subject. In addition, the construction indicates adversative affect
Affect (linguistics)
In linguistics, speaker affect is attitude or emotion that a speaker brings to an utterance. Affects such as sarcasm, contempt, dismissal, distaste, disgust, disbelief, exasperation, boredom, anger, joy, respect or disrespect, sympathy, pity, gratitude, wonder, admiration, humility, and awe are...

, suggesting that someone was negatively affected.

The Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

adversative passive (also called indirect passive) indicates adversative affect.
  • 花子が 隣の 学生に ピアノを 朝まで 弾かれた。
Hanako-ga tonari-no gakusei-ni piano-o asa-made hikareta.
Hanako-subject neighbor student-by piano-object morning-until played-passive
"Hanako was adversely affected by the neighboring student playing the piano until morning."

The indirect or adversative passive has the same form as the direct passive in Japanese. Unlike the direct passive, the indirect passive may be used with intransitive verbs.
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