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Definition of Passive Voice

The term “voice,” as a linguistic category, indicates the relationship between the subject of a sentence and its verb. In English, there are two voices--active and passive.

If the subject of a sentence performs the action of the verb, the verb is said to be in the "active voice"; for example:

I stopped.

I bathed.

The active voice is considered the normal and preferred relationship in English sentences.

On the other hand, if the subject is acted upon by the verb, the verb is said to be in the "passive voice." There are two ways of casting a verb in the passive voice in English so as to cause the subject to be acted upon by its verb:

The foremost way is by using a form of the verb to be with the "past participle" of a verb, such as in the examples below:

The past participle is the name for the third principal part of a verb, for example, gone (go, went, GONE) or stopped (stop, stopped, STOPPED).

I was stopped. (= Someone stopped me.)

I was bathed. (= Someone bathed me.)

This is the more common way of the two. It appears in all levels of English, and its only restriction is that the verb must be transitive (able to take an object).

The second, and less common, way is by using a form of the verb to get with the past participle of a verb:

I got stopped. (= Someone stopped me.)

This second variant is often called the "get-passive." It is used in less formal situations, and its use is restricted to a small number of verbs, for example, get killed, get stuck, get hurt, get burned, get shot, get arrested, get paid.

Get-passive constructions will not be discussed in this module because there seems to be little definitive information about them except to say that their use is highly restricted; moreover, they do not seem to be as problematic for deaf students as be-passive constructions. For a thorough treatment of get-passive constructions see Yim (1998).