The Category of Voice.


All objective verbs have the category of voice. All objective verbs name the actions which depend on 2 things:

1) the agent of the action

2) the object of the action

The agent of the action may correspond to the subject of the sentence. The object of the action may correspond to the object of the sentence.

Eg: She wrote an annual report.

She is the agent, an annual report is the object of the action. But its not always so.

Eg: An annual report was written by her. Object of the action a report is the subject of the sentence, while the object of the sentence is the agent of the action.

Eg: An annual report was finally written.

The agent is not mentioned. Voice is the form of the verb which shows whether the subject of the sentence is the agent or the subject of the action. The form of the active voice shows that the subject of the sentence is the agent of the action and, consequently, the form of the passive voice shows that the subject of the sentence is the object of the action. The passive voice shows that the subject is acted upon, that it is the receipient of the action, while the active voice shows that the action is performed by its subject, that the subject is the doer of the action. The passive voice is an analytical form in Modern English: it is built up by means of a corresponding tense of the auxiliary verb to be and the past participle of the given verb.

The Common Aspect:

Present It is written

Past It was written

Future It will be written

Present Perfect It has been written

Past Perfect It had been written

Future Perfect It will have been written

The Continuous Aspect:

The Continnous Aspect in the Passive Voice has only two tenses present and past.

Present Its being written (built).

Past It was being written (built).

As to the definitions of the Category of Voice there are two main views. According to one of them this category expresses the relation between the subject and the action. Only these two are mentioned in the definition. According to the other view the category of voice expresses the relations between the subject and the object of the action. In this case the object is introduced into the definition of voice. But we ought to define more precisely what is meant by the expression relation between subject and action. Ilyish B.A. gives the following examples: He invited his friends and He was invited by his friends. The relations between the subject (he) and the active (invite) in the two sentences are different since in the sentence He invited his friends he performs the action, and may be said to be the doer of the action, whereas in the sentence He was invited by his friend he does not act and is not the doer, but the object of the action.

The obvious opposition within the category of voice is that between active and passive. This has not been disputed by any scholar; however, views may differ concerning other voices. This opposition may be illustrated by a number of parallel forms involving different categories of aspect, tense, correlation and mood. We will mention only a few pairs of this kind, since the other possible pairs can be easily supplied:

involves is involving

is involving is being involved

involved was involved

has involved has been involved

should involve should be involved

From the point of view of form the passive voice is the marked member of the opposition: its characteristic is the pattern be + second participle, whereas the active voice is unmarked: its characteristic is the absence of that pattern.

It should be noted that some forms of the active voice find no parallel in the passive (the forms of the future continuous and future perfect continuous) Thus, the forms will be inviting, has been inviting, had been inviting and will have been inviting have nothing to correspond to them in the passive voice.

So, we can state that the active and the passive constitute a complete system of oppositions within the Category of Voice.

The question now is whether there are other voices in the English verb, besides active and passive. We may find doubts.

At various times, the following three vices have been suggested in addition to the two already mentioned.

1) the reflexive, as in dressed himself;

2) the reciprocal, as in they greeted each other;

3) the middle voice, as in the door opened (as distinct from I opened the door).

Well inquire mostly into Passive Voice. The Passive Voice in Modern English is also formed by the auxiliary verb to get + Past Participle, these cases are few.

Eg: She tried to wash her dog and got bitten by her pains.

: got frightened.

The Passive Voice in the English language is used in 2 constructions:

1) the 2 member construction (a subject and the predicate without any object).

Eg: The report was written.

2) the 3 member construction subject, predicate an the by object.

Eg: The report was written by the senior manager.

According to some grammarians in about 80 % of all cases of Passive Voice we have the 2-member construction. The reason for using the 2 member construction so often is obvious, or unknown: we use it when the agent is of no interest. The question why the 3 member construction should be used so widely is very hard to answer. According to some people every active construction has a parallel passive construction as kind of reflection. If we dont take into consideration subjective verbs which are never used in Passive Voice such as to resemble, we still will come across very many cases in which active constructions have no corresponding passive constructions.

Eg: I took a train back home.

I was taken by a train (is impossible).

A taxi was taken by me to the station (is possible, but not English).

Some people say that the 3 member construction is used when we want to stress the agent.

Eg: The house was built by my father. (element of emphasis).

Eg: He was killed by a stray-bullet on the last day of the war (the meaning of emphasis is rather doubt). In fact we dont know why 3 member constructions is used. Even superficial analysis shows that Passive Voice is used much wider in English than in Russian. Usually its explained in the following way: in the Russian language only transitive verbs have the category of voice. In English all objective verbs transitive and intransitive verbs have the category of voice. In the Russian language only the direct object may become the centre of a passive construction. In the English language the indirect object, the prepositional object and even an adv. modifier expressed by a prepositional phrase may become the centre of the passive construction.


Active Passive
I told him the truth. He was told the truth.
I sent for the doctor. The doctor was sent for.
We live in the house. The house is lived in.


There are verbs which take 2 objects direct and indirect and therefore they may form two passive constructions: to give, to tell, to show, to offer, to promise, to send (for), to listen to, to laugh at; to sleep, to live.

Eg: Nobody lived in this house.

The house was not lived in.

On the strength of this ( ) example we say the indirect object is used as centre of the passive construction extremely seldom except the cases. Smb was told, given, shown, and offered. The prepositional object is a still rare case and is used as with verbs: to send for, to speak (to talk) about, to be listened to etc. As to prepositional adverbial phrases they are used only with the verbs: to sleep and to live. The Passive Voice has a twin in the English language. It is a free combination of words which is called the compound nominal predicate of being.

Eg: Her face was hidden by the brims of her head.

The bench was painted.

We cannot tell whether the word hidden is an analytical form of the verb to hide or whether it is a free combination of words denoting the state of the subject. And only the person who says the sentence knows what he means by it.

Eg: Her face was regularly hidden (by her) when she was in the street.

The bench was freshly painted by him.

There are certain (passive) indications, when we can decide whether it is an analytical form or a free combination of words.

1) First of all it is the form of the verb to be in the Perfect Tense Form, the form of the Future Tense and forms of the Continuous Aspect clearly indicate the Passive Voice.

Eg: His debts are being paid (have been paid).

2) Adverbial modifiers of frequency or indefinite time help to build the Passive Voice forms.

Eg: His debts are never paid.

His reports are rarely criticised.

His accounts are sometimes overdrawn.

3) The by object also points to the analytical form.

Eg: His debts are paid by his father.

Not every by - object denotes the agent of the action.

Eg: Her eyes were hidden by the brims of her hat. (free combination of words, the subject is not the agent of the action).

Participle II may have left hand connections with link-verbs ().

Eg: The young womans face became illumined by a smile.

The combination of words thus formed is often homonymous with a passive voice verb as in His duty is fulfilled. The verb fulfilled cannot be treated as the passive voice opposite to fulfills in the sentence He fulfils his duties since:

it doesnt convey the idea of action, but that of state, the result of an action.

the sentence corresponds rather to He has fulfilled his duty than to He fulfils his duty, as the perfective meaning of Participle II is particularly prominent.

Some linguists are against this interpretation. According to L.S.Barkhudarov and D.A.Shteling, the combination be+Participle II should in all cases be treated as a Passive Voice form on the ground that Participle II is first and foremost a verb, the idea of state not being incident to this structure, but resulting from the lexical meaning of the verb and the context it occurs in.

Likewise, G. Vorontsova maintains that the Passive Voice form expresses either an action in its development or an action as an accomplished fact. In both cases we deal with the Passive Voice. However, this theory cannot explain the absence of an active equivalent to As my work is finished, I am free to go.

As shown by A. Smirnitsky The table is made of wood has no corresponding parallel with an active meaning. It is also not clear why other link-verbs may form combinations with Participle II and the most frequent link-verbs cannot do it: to seem forgotten, to look surprised, to be forgotten (surprised).

Examples like I was concealed and motionless, where Participle II is coordinated with an adjective, prove its combinability with the link-verb to be. The lexical meaning of the Participle may be of importance. So, if the Participle denotes a mental state, you are dealing with a free combination of words.

Eg: She was surprised to get a promotion.

In this case surprised denotes mental state; was surprised is a free combination of words a compound nominal predicate of being.

Eg: They were frightened by the earthquake in the town. In this example the Participle names an action, the participle is in the Passive Voice. In every case when we are to distinguish between a free combination of words and an analytical form of the verb, ask yourself if an agent is possible.

Eg: Hell is paved with good intentions.

In this case an agent is impossible, it is state.

Eg: She was depressed by the atmosphere in the office.

The pillow was slightly depressed.

In the 1-st case we are dealing with state, in the other with an action.

The combination of the verb to be with Participle II doesnt always form the Passive Voice. It may also be a nominal predicate. When the verb to be with Participle II compreses the idea of an action, when it shows that the subject is acted upon, it is the Passive Voice; when Participle II indicates the state in which the subject is serving as a predicate, and the verb to be is a link verb, and they both form a nominal predicate.

We clearly have the passive voice:

a) When the verb is qualified by an adverbial modifier, characterizing the action.

Eg: The library door was opened at midnight.

b) When the verb is in the continuous forms.

Eg: The next moment he was being introduced to a middle-aged woman.

c) When the verb is in Future Tense (or the Future in the Past)

Eg: The entrance will be closed at 11.

Further details will be given in a subsequent chapter.

d) The use of the Perfect Forms often shows that the verb to be + Participle II is the Passive Voice.

Eg: Be careful, the door is freshly painted (a nominal predicate)

How much have you done? (The Passive Voice).

Its all done, aunt (a nominal predicate).

e) The combination to be + participle II is usually the Passive Voice when the doer of the action is expressed in the sentence and is introduced by the preposition by.

Eg: They were interrupted by the leader of the delegation.

The young woman was bid by her elder sister to hold her tongue.

She was roused from her reflections by someones approach.



  1. IV Analyze verb-forms and translate the following sentences. Match the verb-forms with their tenses in Active or Passive Voice.
  2. Stylistic devices based on the meaning of the category of case
  3. Stylistic devices based on the meaning of the category of number
  4. Stylistic potential of the category of gender.
  5. The category of state

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Verbal Categories. | Basic qualities of the perfect forms

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