Grammatical voice

In grammar, voice is the relationship between the action or state expressed by a verb, and its arguments (subject, object, etc.).

When the subject is the agent or actor of the verb, the verb is said to be in the active voice. When the subject is the patient, target or undergoer of the action, it is said to be in the passive voice. For example, The cat ate the mouse is active, but The mouse was eaten by the cat is passive.

In a passive voice sentence, the subject and the direct object switch places. The direct object is promoted to subject, and the subject is demoted to an optional complement (that may be left out).

In English, the passive voice is a periphrastic construction, i.e. it is modelled using an ad hoc phrase structure with a different word order, an auxiliary verb and a participle of the main verb (see English passive voice for more details). In other languages, such as Latin, the passive voice is simply marked on the verb as an inflection.

Some languages (e. g. Sanskrit and Classical Greek) have a middle voice. An intransitive verb that appears active but expresses a passive action characterizes the English middle voice. For example, in The casserole cooked in the oven, cooked is syntactically active but semantically passive, putting it in the middle voice.

Many deponent verbs in Latin are also survivals of the Indo-European middle voice; many of these in turn survive as obligatory pseudo-reflexive verbs in the Romance languages such as French and Spanish.

Some languages have even more grammatical voices. For example, in Classic Mongolian there are five voices: active, passive, causative, reciprocal and cooperative.

Ergative languages usually do not have a passive voice, since their syntactic structure does not agree with it; instead some have an antipassive voice that deletes the object of transitive verbs.

Topic-prominent languages like Mandarin tend not employ the passive voice as frequently. In Mandarin, the passive voice is constructed by prefixing the active noun phrase with bei- and rearranging the usual word order:

Gou yao-le zheige nanren. (active)
A dog bite-(past) this-(accusative) man
"A dog bit this man."
Zhege nanren bei gou yao-le. (passive)
This-(nominative) man by a dog bite-(past)
"This man was bitten by a dog."

In addition, through the addition of the auxiliary verb "to be" (shi) the passive voice is frequently used to emphasise the identity of the actor:

Zhege nanren shi bei gou yao-le. (passive)
This-(nominative) man is by a dog bite-(past)
This man was bitten by a dog. [as opposed some other animal])

Despite being a topic-prominent language, Japanese employs the passive voice quite frequently, and has two types of passive voice, one that corresponds to that in English and an indirect passive not found in English. This indirect passive is used when something undesirable happens to the speaker.

Kare wa dorobō ni saifu wo nusumareta. (彼は泥棒に財布を盗まれた。)
He top-mark thief IO-mark wallet DO-mark was stolen
"His wallet was stolen by a thief."
Boku wa kanojo ni uso wo tsukareta. (僕は彼女に嘘をつかれた。)
I top-mark her IO-mark lie DO-mark was told.
"I was lied to by her." / "She lied to me."

Dynamic and static passive

In some languages there is a distinction between static passive voice and dynamic passive voice, for example German. Static means, that an action was done to the subject at a certain point in time, whereas dynamic means that an action is done.

Ich bin am 20. August geboren ("I am born on August 20", static)
Ich wurde am 20. August geboren ("I became born on August 20", dynamic)

List of voices

Here are some voices found in some languages:

See also

fr:Diathse ja:態 pl:Strona_(gramatyka) pt:Voz verbal zh:语态


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