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Active and passive sentences


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Recently a young cousin of mine came to be with a grammar exercise in which she had to convert given sentences from active to passive voices, and vice versa. Embarrassing to admit but I wasn't sure about a number of them! :( :( :(

Here's one of the questions:

Which of the following is NOT a passive sentence?

a) I was denied admission into the school.

B) I was wheeled into the operating theater.

c) I was informed of the dangers involved.

d) I was tired by the end of the day.

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I am pretty sure d) is not a passive sentence. But is d) the only one?  :doubtful:

I agree (d) is not a passive sentence. In  Passive sentence the focus of the sentence is the receiving object of an action and it comes at the start of the sentence; therefore, the object and the subject change position in the sentence. To make a passive sentence you need to start with object first and then  used the be form of the verb depending on the tense and then add a past participle. 

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D is the active sentence. It seems to structurally resemble the others, but it's actually different when you break it down

Q: What is an active sentence?

A: In an active sentence, the subject is doing (ie: is ACTIVE) the action.  The subject, therefore, is front and center in the sentence:

"I eat cookies as a snack. Yum!"

"The dog chased the cat across the park."

Q: So, what is a passive sentence

A:  In passive sentences, the action is happening to someone; the focus is not who did the action, but to whom the action is happening. 

The same sentences as passive ones:

"The cookies are eaten by me as a snack. Yum!"

The cookies are the focus. The are experiencing the action of being eaten. 

"The cat was chased across the park by the dog"

The cat is the victim of the dogs pursuit.  It gives the impression that the cat just allowed himself to be chased.

You'll most often find passive sentences in the past tense, but don't be tricked into assuming that past tense = passive.  That is not always the case.   

Passive is more wordy and more difficult to understand (because of the extra wordage).  Overall, active is the preferred format; however, at times you'll want to use passive.

For example the subject may not be where you want to focus attention. On the receiver of the action, rather than the do-er:

"The masked bandit robbed the bank"

vs

"The banked was robbed by the masked bandit"

"Cheryl wrote the report"

vs

"The report was written by Cheryl"

So all this helps us understand the sentences you gave as an example:

a) I was denied admission into the school. 

= passive...the school is the subject and they did the action of denying you.  Meanies ;)

B) I was wheeled into the operating theater.

The nurses, doctors or someone else did the action of the sentence: wheeling you into the operating theater.  Therefore  the action is happening to you.  = passive.

c) I was informed of the dangers involved.

Someone else did the action of informing you about the risks.  You just received the information. Thus, this is again passive.

d) I was tired by the end of the day.

This is the tricky one.  The use of past tense gives the impression of passive voice, but you are doing the action of being tired.  The day is not tiring you, nor is it tired because of you. Therefore, this is the active sentence.

Two more examples:

"SarahRTW wrote this very long post"

"This very long post was written by SarahRTW"

:D

Hope this helps!

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  • 3 weeks later...

D is the active sentence. It seems to structurally resemble the others, but it's actually different when you break it down

Q: What is an active sentence?

A: In an active sentence, the subject is doing (ie: is ACTIVE) the action.  The subject, therefore, is front and center in the sentence:

"I eat cookies as a snack. Yum!"

"The dog chased the cat across the park."

Q: So, what is a passive sentence

A:  In passive sentences, the action is happening to someone; the focus is not who did the action, but to whom the action is happening. 

The same sentences as passive ones:

"The cookies are eaten by me as a snack. Yum!"

The cookies are the focus. The are experiencing the action of being eaten. 

"The cat was chased across the park by the dog"

The cat is the victim of the dogs pursuit.  It gives the impression that the cat just allowed himself to be chased.

You'll most often find passive sentences in the past tense, but don't be tricked into assuming that past tense = passive.  That is not always the case.   

Passive is more wordy and more difficult to understand (because of the extra wordage).  Overall, active is the preferred format; however, at times you'll want to use passive.

For example the subject may not be where you want to focus attention. On the receiver of the action, rather than the do-er:

"The masked bandit robbed the bank"

vs

"The banked was robbed by the masked bandit"

"Cheryl wrote the report"

vs

"The report was written by Cheryl"

So all this helps us understand the sentences you gave as an example:

a) I was denied admission into the school. 

= passive...the school is the subject and they did the action of denying you.  Meanies ;)

B) I was wheeled into the operating theater.

The nurses, doctors or someone else did the action of the sentence: wheeling you into the operating theater.  Therefore  the action is happening to you.  = passive.

c) I was informed of the dangers involved.

Someone else did the action of informing you about the risks.  You just received the information. Thus, this is again passive.

d) I was tired by the end of the day.

This is the tricky one.  The use of past tense gives the impression of passive voice, but you are doing the action of being tired.  The day is not tiring you, nor is it tired because of you. Therefore, this is the active sentence.

Two more examples:

"SarahRTW wrote this very long post"

"This very long post was written by SarahRTW"

:D

Hope this helps!

Oh thank you so much for taking the trouble to give so many examples! It certainly helped a lot! I guess, in being able to speak the language fluently I had never really bothered too much with its grammar, which is a shame.

From all the examples you've put forth, I understand that the 'do-er' of the action - or the verb in the sentence - is always the subject, and if that subject is the main focus and is 'active', so to speak, then that sentence is an active sentence.

Am I right?

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D is the active sentence. It seems to structurally resemble the others, but it's actually different when you break it down

Q: What is an active sentence?

A: In an active sentence, the subject is doing (ie: is ACTIVE) the action.  The subject, therefore, is front and center in the sentence:

"I eat cookies as a snack. Yum!"

"The dog chased the cat across the park."

Q: So, what is a passive sentence

A:  In passive sentences, the action is happening to someone; the focus is not who did the action, but to whom the action is happening. 

The same sentences as passive ones:

"The cookies are eaten by me as a snack. Yum!"

The cookies are the focus. The are experiencing the action of being eaten. 

"The cat was chased across the park by the dog"

The cat is the victim of the dogs pursuit.  It gives the impression that the cat just allowed himself to be chased.

You'll most often find passive sentences in the past tense, but don't be tricked into assuming that past tense = passive.  That is not always the case.   

Passive is more wordy and more difficult to understand (because of the extra wordage).  Overall, active is the preferred format; however, at times you'll want to use passive.

For example the subject may not be where you want to focus attention. On the receiver of the action, rather than the do-er:

"The masked bandit robbed the bank"

vs

"The banked was robbed by the masked bandit"

"Cheryl wrote the report"

vs

"The report was written by Cheryl"

So all this helps us understand the sentences you gave as an example:

a) I was denied admission into the school. 

= passive...the school is the subject and they did the action of denying you.  Meanies ;)

B) I was wheeled into the operating theater.

The nurses, doctors or someone else did the action of the sentence: wheeling you into the operating theater.  Therefore  the action is happening to you.  = passive.

c) I was informed of the dangers involved.

Someone else did the action of informing you about the risks.  You just received the information. Thus, this is again passive.

d) I was tired by the end of the day.

This is the tricky one.  The use of past tense gives the impression of passive voice, but you are doing the action of being tired.  The day is not tiring you, nor is it tired because of you. Therefore, this is the active sentence.

Two more examples:

"SarahRTW wrote this very long post"

"This very long post was written by SarahRTW"

:D

Hope this helps!

Thank you for the long and in depth explanation of the passive tense. The difference between the passive and active tense has always confused me. Especially when I'm doing online spell and grammar checks, the results are always 'too many sentences in the passive tense'. Now I finally know what they mean :)

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D is the active sentence. It seems to structurally resemble the others, but it's actually different when you break it down

Q: What is an active sentence?

A: In an active sentence, the subject is doing (ie: is ACTIVE) the action.  The subject, therefore, is front and center in the sentence:

"I eat cookies as a snack. Yum!"

"The dog chased the cat across the park."

Q: So, what is a passive sentence

A:  In passive sentences, the action is happening to someone; the focus is not who did the action, but to whom the action is happening. 

The same sentences as passive ones:

"The cookies are eaten by me as a snack. Yum!"

The cookies are the focus. The are experiencing the action of being eaten. 

"The cat was chased across the park by the dog"

The cat is the victim of the dogs pursuit.  It gives the impression that the cat just allowed himself to be chased.

You'll most often find passive sentences in the past tense, but don't be tricked into assuming that past tense = passive.  That is not always the case.   

Passive is more wordy and more difficult to understand (because of the extra wordage).  Overall, active is the preferred format; however, at times you'll want to use passive.

For example the subject may not be where you want to focus attention. On the receiver of the action, rather than the do-er:

"The masked bandit robbed the bank"

vs

"The banked was robbed by the masked bandit"

"Cheryl wrote the report"

vs

"The report was written by Cheryl"

So all this helps us understand the sentences you gave as an example:

a) I was denied admission into the school. 

= passive...the school is the subject and they did the action of denying you.  Meanies ;)

B) I was wheeled into the operating theater.

The nurses, doctors or someone else did the action of the sentence: wheeling you into the operating theater.  Therefore  the action is happening to you.  = passive.

c) I was informed of the dangers involved.

Someone else did the action of informing you about the risks.  You just received the information. Thus, this is again passive.

d) I was tired by the end of the day.

This is the tricky one.  The use of past tense gives the impression of passive voice, but you are doing the action of being tired.  The day is not tiring you, nor is it tired because of you. Therefore, this is the active sentence.

Two more examples:

"SarahRTW wrote this very long post"

"This very long post was written by SarahRTW"

:D

Hope this helps!

I agree with this.

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  • 1 month later...

I agree with the others above, though I couldn't say I'm 100% sure about my answers, haha.

Either way, I've always been told that we generally use active sentences for added strength and power to sentences. This is why articles are often told in the active than the passive voice.

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I though I already know a lot about the English language (it being my 2nd language), but after seeing this post, I realized that I really don't know that much. :(

I was like, "oh sure! I can answer this". But then, when I looked at the options, I told myself, do you even know grammar?

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  • 3 weeks later...

The last, letter d is not a passive sentence. The propositional clause there is not the cause why the subject is tired. The subject is simply describing himself. Unlike with the first three, it's not just stated there who actually did the action to them. That's why there's no 'by' there.

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  • 6 months later...

The last, letter d is not a passive sentence. The propositional clause there is not the cause why the subject is tired. The subject is simply describing himself. Unlike with the first three, it's not just stated there who actually did the action to them. That's why there's no 'by' there.

A little too late as a reply, but still, I wish to add a few things:

In the fourth sentence ''I was tired by the end of the day.'', verb ''to be'' serves as a linking verb. And linking verbs are used in SVC sentence patterns: Subject - Verb - Subject Complement. There is no action happening in the sentence.

Compare:

The ghost appeared in the room.

It appeared that the only solution was hers.

Compared to the sentence above, where you have ''action'', sentence below has none. Verb appear is used as a linking verb.

''Tired'' here is subject complement realised through an adjective phrase, AdjP (yes, phrase, even though it's only one word - adjective is the head and the fact that you can say ''very tired'' - I was very tired - confirms this). This tells us about the subject and provides a connection in between it (the subject) with the rest of the sentence (tired). I am omitting the ending (''by the end of the day'') for a reason, because that isn't an obligatory element. In this case, adverbial (of time) is optional and therefore not included in the pattern.

More subject complement examples:

She is my secretary.

She is beautiful.

A detective's job is to find clues.

The reason is that I don't like him.

As you can see, subject complement is mostly realised through noun phrases (in this case NP with D my and N secretary), adjective phrases (AdjP with adjective beautiful as its head), but they can also be clauses - either non-finite (to infinitive in this case, but it could have easily been gerund-participial) or finite (that-clause)

This is same for object complements (pattern SVOC), though they come after direct object:

He got his shoes wet.

The dye turned the water blue.

I made her my secretary.

Active passive distinction:

They elected her president. (object complement - active)

She was elected president. (passive)

Naturally, this is agentless passive! You won't add ''by them'' as it doesn't really matter (plus, we don't know who ''they'' are).

I am going to offer possible variants of the active sentences for the first three:

They denied me admission into school (it could be the principal - The principal denied me admission into school)

She wheeled me into the operating theatre (could be the nurse - The nurse wheeled me into the operating theatre)

He informed me of the dangers involved. (could be the scientist, the doctor, the nurse, the man, the detective.... take your pick)

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I think the last one is the only active sentence. The way I do it is by trying to pinpoint where the subject is and if it's not there then it's likely you can add "by ____" at the end so you can more easily determine which ones are passive. All three previous options, for example, make sense when you add on an imaginary subject at the end while the last one doesn't.

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