New Discoveries in English Passive Voice

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It should be noted that the transformation of the active sentences into the passive sentences is limited to certain clauses/sentences. Wiredu (1999:148) emphasizes that ‘it is not every verb in English that allows the passive formation.

Only two types of verbs can allow the passives and these are transitive and intransitive verbs, that is, these are the verbs that can take objects.

This explains that only transitive sentences can transform into passive sentences. Intransitive verbs do not admit passive forms since they are verbs that do not take the direct objects.

As a result of this, there is no noun phrase (NP) that can serve as the subject in the passive sentence.  Some intransitive verbs include: sleep, arrive, go, come, laugh, wept, dance, walk, etc.

This article has assisted us so far in carefully selecting the appropriate active sentences for passive transformations.

You should know that the changes of the active sentences into the passive sentences are limited to certain expressions.

Consideration 1

The study of restrictions on passive forms helps to understand that not all sentences are active for passive transformations. Only a sentence having the direct object (transitive verb) can be changed into a passive sentence. For example:

Active: The snake bites the dog.

The sentence above is transitive because it admits the direct object the dog. So, the sentence can be changed to a passive sentence.

Passive: The dog is bitten by the snake.

Consideration 2

Intransitive verbs do not admit passive forms since they are verbs that do not welcome or take the direct objects.

As a result of this, there is no noun phrase (NP) that can serve as the subject in the passive sentence. Some of the intransitive verbs include “sleep, arrive, go, come, laugh, wept, dance, walk, etc. For example:

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Active: I have slept off.

Active: The man laughed profusely.

Active: She danced gracefully.

Active: They will go there.

None of the active sentences above will be changed into the passive sentence because they lack noun phrases (objects) that can serve as the objects in the passive sentence. They just have immediate adverbials. Therefore, it is impossible to say:

*Off have been slept by me.

*Profusely was laughed at by the man.

*Gracefully was danced by her.

*There will be gone by them.

Consideration 3

In most cases, some linking verbs that do not admit the direct objects, and the linking verbs which admit immediate adjectives in the active sentences cannot be transformed into the passive sentences.

Some of the linking verbs include “seem, look, grow, become, sound, remain, get, etc. Like intransitive verbs, they are devoid of direct objects. For example:

Active: The man grows nervous.

Active: The problem remains the same.

Active: Mrs. Carol has become our new principal.

Active: The statement sounded stupid to me.

None of the active sentences above will be changed into the passive sentences because they are void of the direct objects that can serve as the subjects in the passive sentences.

Some of them receive immediate adjectives and some receive objects that have nothing to do with them. So, it is not possible to say:

*Nervous is grown by the man.

*The same is remained by the problem.

*Our new principal has been become by Mrs. Carol.

*Stupid to me was sounded by that statement.

Consideration 4

Certain verbs do not allow passive transformation. They can just be used in active sentences. Some of these verbs include “resemble, lack, own, fit, etc. For example:

Active: Uche resembled her sister.

Active: Sandra lacks knowledge.

Active: I own a big house.

Active: He liked me.

None of the sentences above can be changed into passive sentences since the verbs they contain are not meant for the transformation. It is, therefore, not possible to say:

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*Her sister resembled Uche.

*Knowledge is lacking Sandra.

*A big house is owned by me.

*I was liked by me.

Consideration 5

It should be noted that reflexive pronouns which occur as an object in the active sentence hamper the passive forms.

We can understand that where the objects in the active sentences are reflexive pronouns, such sentences cannot be converted into passive sentences. For example:

Active: The children cheat themselves.

Active: Abigail brushed herself.

Active: David reads himself.

Active: We shall sing ourselves.

None of the active sentences above are possible to be converted into passive sentences because reflexive pronouns cannot be meaningfully served as the subjects in the passive sentences. It is not possible to say:

*Themselves are created by the children.

*Herself was brushed by Abigail.

*Himself is read by David.

*Ourself shall be sung by us.

Consideration 6

If the reciprocal pronouns – “each other” and “one another” occur as the objects in the active sentences, they cannot be changed into the passive sentences. For example:

Active: Both of them are fighting each other.

Active: All students greeted one another.

Since reciprocal pronouns, which the active sentences above contain, are not meant for passive transformations, then the active sentences here cannot be converted into passive sentences. It is not possible to say:

*Each other is being fought by both of them.

*One another was greeted by all the students.

Conclusion

The conclusion of this article is to understand that the active sentences that will be changed into passive sentences should have transitive verbs.

The transitive verbs are verbs having direct objects. The direct objects are not adverbials, adjectives, reflexive pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, and others. We can read about the place of the transitivity in passivization.

The Place of Transitivity in Passivisation

Osisanwo (1997: 48) defines transitivity as a ‘system of the clause which accounts basically for choices made about the complement.’

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Quirk et al (1987) see transitivity as a system with two members, namely transitive and intransitive.  The locus of this study is the verb (lexical) which it subdivides into two sets, though its influence affects the clause structure.

Lexical verbs in English can be either transitive or intransitive. Adejare, et al  (1996: 150) examine transitive verbs as ‘the category of the verb which welcomes a direct object in the complement position.’

Only transitive verbs are needed for the study of passivization.  O’ Grady, et al (2001) opines that in passive clauses, what would otherwise be expressed by the object of the verb comes to be expressed by the subject is either not expressed at all, or is indicated by some adjunct of the clause.

Thus, transforming an active verb into a passive verb is a valence–decreasing process because it transforms transitive verbs into intransitive verbs.

In this article, it said that the active sentences that we intend to transform into the passive sentences should be transitive, that is, they should have direct objects. For example:

Active: Ade kills a rat.

The underlined words in the sentence above are a direct object.

Passive: A rat is killed by Ade.

The second sentence above is a passive sentence transformed from the first sentence (active) sentence.

Author: Deola Adelakun

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