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Passive Voice


By John-Allen Payne, Ph.D.
Department of English
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Rochester Institute of Technology

The passive voice is an important grammatical structure that appears in every form of written and spoken English. Knowledge of this construction is vital for reading and writing English in everyday life.

Research studies indicate that, although hearing children usually master the passive construction by eight or nine years of age, many deaf children as old as 17 and 18 have still failed to master it completely. Moreover, experienced teachers in postsecondary programs for deaf students know that this failure to completely master the passive voice extends into the college years as well. Passive voice constructions can be especially insidious, for failure to understand them correctly can actually lead to a misinterpretation of vital information.

This module will first present a brief description of the passive voice and how it is used in English language discourse. Second, it will summarize three seminal research studies into deaf children’s comprehension and production of passive voice sentences. Finally, it will suggest several ways that teachers may deal with passive voice constructions in their teaching.

Major Considerations

  1. Passive voice structures are an essential component of English rhetorical structure.
  2. The ability to produce correct passive voice structures is an indispensable requisite for success in writing English.
  3. The ability to comprehend passive voice structures is an indispensable requisite for success in reading English.
  4. The comprehension and production of passive voice structures pose a significant challenge for many young deaf students.
  5. Failure to understand a passive voice sentence can result in a serious misinterpretation of information.
  6. Young deaf students perform better on some types of passive constructions than on others.
  7. Under certain circumstances, information in passive voice sentences can be made more accessible to deaf students by being recast into active voice sentences.
  8. Course materials can be structured to enhance students’ comprehension of passive voice structures.