Talk:Voice (grammar)

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Shunted from article:

The French language does not have the passive voice but provides a similar effect through reflexive verbs.

So what about "La page fut ecrite par le wikipédien", or, in the middle voice "la casserole cuit au four"?

Is it really true that the passive voice is more common in British than in American English? I've never seen this claim before, and I am a bit curious as to where it comes from. -- Smerdis of Tlön 21:11, 18 Dec 2003 (UTC)

It is my experience that the passive voice is used more commonly in the UK. Books are often written with passives everywhere, while news reports are cluttered with them. Wooster 16:48, 18 Aug 2004 (UTC)

I should think journalism would favor the passive voice as it's more precise, and I find the passive voice in good news writing only seldom. Can anyone present evidence to the contrary?

Passive voice is often much less precise: "The mayor signed the bill" is more precise than "the bill was signed." The comment about journalism favoring passive makes no sense to me, a journalist. DavidH July 8, 2005 10:48 (UTC)

Despite what the article says, the passive voice is very common in Japanese. I will change the page accordingly. --BobMaestro 21:35, 08 May 2005 (UTC)


From the first paragraph: "the voice (also called gender or diathesis) of a verb..." Gender of a verb? I've never heard that term; is there a citation? (I've also never heard of diathesis in this context, but I'm less ready to call that into question--still, a citation would be nice.) Mcswell (talk) 19:20, 26 February 2008 (UTC)

I added both "gender" and "diathesis" orginially. I've just re-inserted "gender". It's a common enough expression in older literature. The reason that it rubs some people against the furs is probably due to sexual politics of the past few decades. However, "gender" (genus) didn't originally mean "sex" in Latin. It meant something broad like "type". There's a very frequent confusion about this among amateur linguistics who take "gender" to have something to do with modern sex roles. It doesn't. At least, it didn't originally. Bantaar (talk) 02:33, 24 April 2009 (UTC)

Can you point to some sources that use gender to mean voice? John M Baker (talk) 02:33, 24 April 2009 (UTC)
From the on-line version of ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA: "in language, a phenomenon in which the words of a certain part of speech, usually nouns, require the agreement, or concord, through grammatical marking (or inflection), of various other words related to them in a sentence."
Okay, this doesn't conclusively prove my point, but notice the expression "usually nouns". In order to get more citations, I'll have to get up from the computer and pull down some books from the shelves. Bantaar (talk) 03:12, 24 April 2009 (UTC)
"genĕra verbi (Aspects gre: Διαθέσεις) 4.
   genus actīvum (active). laudo I praise. 
   genus medĭum (middle). lāvor = lavo me I wash, I wash myself. 
   genus passīvum (passive). laudor I am praised (by somebody else). 
   genus neutrum (neutral). dormio I sleep. "
- Bantaar (talk) 04:07, 24 April 2009 (UTC)
Britannica clearly is talking about grammatical gender, a construction unrelated to voice. John M Baker (talk) 04:08, 24 April 2009 (UTC)
Voice has nothing to do with agreement, so the Britannica example doesn't actually support your assertion. The Latin example only supports the use of the term genus, generis with that meaning in Latin (English gender, while ultimately deriving from genus by way of Old French, is not a direct translation). — Gwalla | Talk 06:13, 24 April 2009 (UTC)
OK, I yield. I've been looking through several books of grammar, and English language ones very consistently use the term "voice". Other languages (notably old Latin grammars of ancient Rome), often use the term "genus" which is etymologically the origin of the English "gender", but just as with the Britannica quote (which I admit to having added rather hastily), that's neither here nor there in this context. English language grammars, I admit, very consistently use the term "voice". Feel free to remove the term "diathesis" as well, if you like, since it's very Greek-oriented. Bantaar (talk) 19:02, 9 May 2009 (UTC)
I admit that my previous example wasn't very good. However, now rereading parts of Robert Beekes: "Comparative Indo-European Linguistics", I have come across a book where "gender" is clearly used as a term for "voice". See for example the very beginning of chapter 18: "The Verb", 18.1: "General", 18.1.1: "Introduction":
[...]In this way the following categories were long ago inferred for PIE:
gender: active, middle
tenses: present (with imperfect); aorist; perfect (perhaps with pluperfect)
moods: indicative, injunctive, subjunctive, optative, imperative
(end quote)
I don't know if one example, even from a prominent source in the academical source in the linguistic world, merits a reinsertion. My feeling is that it should be, because people may come across this use and try to look it up on Wikipedia, only to be told that the word "gender" has to do ONLY with categories of nouns. For such people, the Wikipedia entries as they are now, are particularly unhelpful. The discussion is, of course, ideologically related to the discussion that led to the split of "noun classes" from "gender" relating to nouns, which I likewise feel to be sadly unhelpful. Actually, I even feel that it might be better if terms were used more clearly, conformly and unambiguously throughout literature; however, that's not the case, so I'd still be in favour of even the inclusion of a disambiguation entry of "gender" to direct here. I'm not prepared to take up any time-consuming debate over the issue at the moment, however, so I won't make any changes to the main pages, at least for now, but offer the above quote only as support for anybody who might wish to pursue such improvements. Bantaar (talk) 12:54, 30 March 2010 (UTC)


I just moved an entire section to English passive voice, and I intend to move most of the rest to Passive voice (which redirects here as of today). The move of the English usage section was mainly to clearly isolate usage of one particular voice in one particular language from the rest, more general article. Writing articles on the usage of passive voice in other languages would be a good thing, too. --Pablo D. Flores 13:38, 8 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Mention use in writing[edit]

I'd like to see mention in this article about passive voice in writing: Why it's often discouraged, why it is sometimes necessary (to avoid forcing a subject into a sentence that doesn't really need one).

This topic has a lot of technical linguistic information, but wouldn't be a lot of help for someone who has been told not to use passive voice so much in their writing, and wants more information about it. The initial definition could be better with less jargon, IMO. DavidH July 8, 2005 10:45 (UTC)

A question and a few changes[edit]

In the (currently) fourth paragraph discussing English, the following is given as an explanation of periphrastic construction:

...i.e. it is modelled using an ad hoc phrase structure with a different word order....

I'm curious about the use of "modelled" and "ad hoc phrase structure" here: Do they really mean anything significant? Indeed, since there is already a page for periphrasis (and linked to), is this really even necessary?

Also, I cleaned up the Chinese and Japanese examples and glosses. The inclusion of "(accusative)" and "(nominative)" in the Chinese glosses was misleading, particularly in the way it was done. (Another question: should the structure of "zheige" be shown by writing it "zhei-ge", with gloss "this-COUNTER"?)

I also tried to conform the Japanese glosses to the style used in the Japanese grammar article. The use of the label "IO" (Indirect Object) in the examples here is simply wrong in that ni (=ni yotte: by) indicates the AGENT, not a RECIPIENT or BENEFICIARY. --RJCraig 10:24, 30 July 2005 (UTC)

Dynamic & Stative passives[edit]

The last section of the article about dynamic and stative passives I don't really understand. What do the German examples actually mean? It sounds like it was written by a native German speaker (e.g. the comma after 'means') so it might be an oversight somewhere...

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

Also in ‘The store was open’, isn't ‘open’ just an adjective, same as in open vowels etc, rather than a specific usage of a verb?

Felix the Cassowary (ɑe hɪː jɐ) 05:33, 28 September 2005 (UTC)

You're right about "open"; it's an adjective and it shouldn't be in this section. Maybe the Dutch examples are easier to understand. Maybe not, some feedback is welcome on this one. Maybe someone with knowledge of Spanish can provide us with Spanish examples... Shinobu 15:38, 28 September 2005 (UTC)

The Dutch examples look like the diff b/n ‘The wall's painted’ and ‘The wall's being painted’, yes? (Tho again here ‘painted’ strikes me more as an adjective, but it works as well with the German examples if I understand: ‘I was born’:‘I was being born’.) —Felix the Cassowary (ɑe hɪː jɐ) 00:51, 29 September 2005 (UTC)

"Painted" feels a bit adjective-like because participles act as adjectival forms of the verb - nothing to worry about there. But, even though "painted" and "opened" are participles, "open", at least to my knowlegde, isn't. As for the English examples, my English verb forms have rusted a bit, but it sounds right. Which would mean that English also makes a distinction between static and dynamic passives. Granted, the article nowhere states that English doesn't, but I would feel a lot safer if a linguist would let his light shine on this one. Shinobu 00:27, 30 September 2005 (UTC)

Answers to the questions in this section of Discussion. Stative passive is also denoted "resultative" passive. It indicates resultant state, the state resulting from an action. "ich wurde geboren" indicates the action, "my birth occurred", while "ich bin geboren" indicates that "I am a person whose birth occurred, I am a person who is the result of a birth that occurred".

Often, specific attributive adjectives (adjectives that indicate a state), i.e., specific adjectival lexical items, are grammatically derived from participles. Often, too, the converse happens. The direction of derivation depends on the specific pair of lexemes. Moreover, for any such pair, the relationship of derivation may be only etymological, it may be no longer operative. To make this statement concrete, here's an example: it is hypothetically possible that millenia ago, the ancestor to the English "adjective" 'open' was just the "participle" form of the ancestor of the verb 'open'; but even if this is so, this is no longer the case.

English distinguishes dynamic passive from "stative passive" -- i.e., makes the distinction by *grammatical marking* -- only to a limited extent, less so than other western European languages such as German and French. English *can* make the distinction by using 'get' as the auxiliary instead of 'be'. 'Be' can indicate either the passive voice (so called "dynamic passive") or the resultant state (so called "stative passive"); ergo, 'be' does not accomplish the distinction. In contrast, 'get' never indicates resultant state.

(a) [The man kicked the table and] the glass was/got knocked over. (b) [I came into the room and saw that] the glass was knocked over. Hurmata 22:00, 27 August 2006 (UTC)

--Tried to ad these examples, parphrasing examples from the Spanish wiki page Construcciones pasivas. Could a native speaker look over it, I'm not sure it's even possible to make a parallel construction here that will actually make sense

Las camas están hechas (The beds are made, static)

Las camas son hechas (The beds are (being) made, dynamic) 16:51, 20 October 2006 (UTC)

latin inflection[edit]

You mentioned that " In other languages, such as Latin, the passive voice is simply marked on the verb as an inflection." I'm not sure if we're talking about the same thing, but in latin, the ending changes if the verb is in the passive voice. Take the first person, present tense, indicative conjugations of moneo, monere, monui, monitum in both voices. In the active it's moneo, in the passive, it's moneor. That's not just a matter of inflection. Maybe we're talking about different things, but I just thought I'd make the comment.


This is probably just what the original contributor meant. I'll try to improve u

pon the wording of the article. Shinobu 01:46, 3 January 2006 (UTC)

The problem may be that "inflection"has two uses when describing language. Many people use "inflection" to refer to "tone," that is, the pitch and stress of an utterance. In that sense, Latin does not use inflection to mark voice. However, there is a second meaning of the word "inflection," which is commonly used by linguists and among those who study Latin and Greek. The second meaning refers to an ending that conveys grammatical meaning. In this sense, a grammatical ending is an inflection. Thus, "s" in the word "cats" is an inflection. In this second sense, the statement is accurate and correct.
There is a greater problem, however, Latin does not always use inflections to mark the passive (although often, maybe usually it does). In perfect forms it uses an auxiliary verb and a participle, rather like English, to form the passive. ("monui" = "I warned"; "monitus sum" = "I was warned.")

Passive Voice in West Germanic Languages[edit]

I'm trying to compile a table with the corresponding passive voice verb forms in 4 different West Germanic languages, namely English, German, Dutch and Afrikaans (formerly known as South African Dutch). Could anyone please verify and complement the information below ?

English German Dutch Afrikaans
is made wird gemacht wordt gemaakt word gemaak
was made wurde gemacht werd gemaakt is gemaak
has been made ist gemacht worden is gemaakt is gemaak
had been made war gemacht worden was gemaakt was gemaak
will be made wird gemacht werden zal gemaakt worden sal gemaak word
would be made würde gemacht zou gemaakt worden sou gemaak word
will have been made  ?? zal gemaakt zijn  ??
would have been made wäre gemacht worden zou gemaakt zijn  ??

Note: For German, Dutch and English, only the 3rd person singular forms of the auxiliary verbs were shown.

The Dutch and English versions seem to be consistent. Shinobu 15:56, 3 March 2006 (UTC)
German for 'will have been made' would be 'wird gemacht worden sein' BovineBeast 20:40, 20 August 2006 (UTC)


This entry could use links to websites that have exercises to help people get a feel for the different voice types. My U.S. public school education on this was practically non-existant. The biggest strike on public schools in my opinion is that you cannot demand a refund. 19:52, 27 February 2006 (UTC)

"The passive voice in topic-prominent languages"[edit]

The second Japanese section in "The passive voice in topic-prominent languages" looks fine...

僕 は 彼女 に 嘘 を 吐かれた。

Boku wa kanojo ni uso wo tsukareta.


"I was lied to by her." (or "She lied to me.")

However, a friend of mine (who is a native Japanese speaker and flunet in English having lived in the UK for years) tells me that this doesn't sound right. His translation of the Japanese characters into English went like this:

"i had my girlfriend puking lies at me"

He says the first quote sounds fine, it is only this one that he has an issue with. I'm not sure if it's just lost in translation, but can anyone confirm that the statement is valid? --Matty! 20:10, 12 July 2006 (UTC)

The verb here is "吐く" ("to breathe", "to disgorge", "to vomit", and, according to Jim Breen, User:Jimbreen, "to tell (lies)"). So I'm guessing that although your friend is fluent in English, he is perhaps not so fluent as to know that in English we generally don't puke/vomit lies, but tell them, and that that is bad enough. That, or perhaps the use of "吐く" in this way is a regional thing and there are areas in Japan where lies aren't puked either. Perhaps we could ask Jim Breen? I gather he's an expert in these things. Shinobu 22:21, 12 July 2006 (UTC)
The Chinese seems odd, too. The use of 了 specifically seems strange here. It's almost as though the person who wrote this is confusing it with the past tense. To my ears it sounds like "the dog finished biting the man (and then) ..." or "the dog has already bitten the man". In some of these examples I would have used 的 rather than 了, but it might just be the dialect I speak. Eniagrom (talk) 23:31, 5 August 2010 (UTC)

Intriguingly, the section counts two types of passive voice in Japanese, including the "indirect passive...used when something undesirable happens to the speaker." Yet, seemingly it supplies no example sentence with that voice. Including such an example would seem helpful. I deduce this lack by inspecting the sentence, "Boku wa kanojo ni uso o tsukareta." If indeed that sentence employs the indirect passive voice, grammatically how does it differ from the other example sentence, "Kare wa dorobo ni saifu o nusumareta", in which "he" is said to be the topic?

Alternatively, does every example sentence supplied employ the indirect passive voice, while the other-mentioned type of passive voice ("correspond[ing] to that in English") still remains, as lacking an example? Generally, how does Japanese indicate the indirect passive voice? In sum, the section's discussion of Japanese seems perhaps somewhat misleading, although admittedly my knowledge of Japanese is tiny. See [1] Georgesawyer (talk) 15:17, 3 June 2015 (UTC)

Seventh person?[edit]

A recent edit talks about a "seventh person" in Finnish. Is this for real? It seems extremely dubious (it says "after the six singular and plural persons", but AFAIK the 3rd person plural is still 3rd person, not 6th). — Gwalla | Talk 06:48, 27 November 2006 (UTC)

Agreed. Ruakh 16:22, 27 November 2006 (UTC)

Impersonal voice?[edit]

I noticed that there is no Impersonal voice article in the Wikipedia; doing some research, I noticed that the term is not referred to in SIL dictionary either. However, the phenomenon seems to be attested in Hindi (applying passive form to intransitive verbs), Spanish (however, already described in WP under Mediopassive voice), Gaelic and Otomi. The phenomenon, however, is attested in Slavic languages as well, using the reflexive form of verbs; TTBOMK, the following constructs are applicable in Serbo-Croatian, Slovak language, as well as (perhaps to a lesser degree) to Ukrainian and Russian:

  • U ratu se umire (In war, oneself-dies, One dies at war)
  • Zna se da... ([It] knows-oneself that..., It is known)

Note that I'm {{user ru-1}} so I'm not certain that В войне умирается and Знается что are valid Russian constructs (it seems so, judging on Google). There is a detailed analysis of the phenomenon in Serbian by Milja Djurkovic, here.

First, notice the difference to passive voice: the impersonate form uses the reflexive verb rather than passive participle. Since the Serbo-Croatian has the pure passive voice, some constructs are equally valid there: Poznato je = Zna se = It is known. Besides, if is only the form of the verb that is apparently reflexive, rather than using reflexive verb as such: "umirati se" is not a valid verb in any other context or person, and only its 3rd person-singular-neutrum can be used in impersonal constructs (umirati is not transitive to start with). The construct can be applied to pretty much all verbs, and, according to Djurkovic "the only condition is that they can be construed as having a human agent. The applied human agent can be generic, or loosely specified collective or individual". OTOH, it's impossible to make a reflexive impersonal form out of verbs such as ključati (boil) (which are, basically, impersonal verbs per se).

Now, I'm raising the issue here first to prevent myself from going into WP:OR. The problem is, while the phenomenon is apparently widely present in many languages (Slavic being the ones I'm familiar with), probably some Romance as well, it is seldom referred to as "Impersonal voice". Djurkovic uses just "Impersonal" throughout (inappropriate title for an article). I'd like to hear few opinions first about the appropriateness and organization of the articles, before hastily creating it. Duja 16:23, 10 January 2007 (UTC)

The problem is, the term "impersonal voice" doesn't make perfect sense, since "impersonal" is an absolute term (it indicates that a verb has, in a certain sense, no subject; see Impersonal verb) while "voice" is a relative term (the various voices are all defined relative to each other; for example, relative to the active voice, the passive voice is the voice where the subject is deleted and the object is promoted to the subject position). Further, you're using the term to mean two different things. On the one hand, there's what's called an "impersonal passive voice", the passive voice of a verb whose active voice is intransitive (such that the passive voice has, in the relevant sense, no subject); this exists in some Germanic languages, and judging by your comment, in Hindi as well. On the other hand, there's what's known as a "mediopassive voice", a syntactic middle voice (in some languages a reflexive voice) used as a semantic passive voice. These are completely different phenomena; in one, there's no object to promote, while in the other, there is an object, but it's only partly promoted, and the verb doesn't fully switch from the active voice to the passive. Both are already discussed on Wikipedia. —RuakhTALK 22:39, 10 January 2007 (UTC)
Yes, I agree that the term is stretched at best (that was the reason I asked here first, after all). Hindi seems to fit into impersonal passive voice category. However, it seems that Slavic ones might fit into the mediopassive voice category, usage resembling Spanish, although
a) Google shows that they are seldom called as such; although here the term is applied to Polish as a synonym of "impersonal reflexive"
b) They don't satisfy the SIL definition that the verb has stative meaning.
However, here's a source which gives an overview of all aspects of Slavic and Romance reflexive forms, focusing on the former: it seems the reflexive forms can carry much more than just the impersonalization of the subject/agent (and it also includes impersonalization of the object/patient, as in gurati se [lit. to push oneself, meaning "to be pushy"] ). Guess I'll amend the reflexive verb and mediopassive voice for the start... (although I'd like to hear alternate suggestions). Duja 08:45, 11 January 2007 (UTC)

Indirect Passive in English[edit]

The article claims that in English, the transformation from an active voice construction to the equivalent passive voice construction promotes the direct object to the subject. However, it's equally possible to promote an indirect object instead in most cases:

Alice gave Bob a present Bob was given a present by Alice A present was given to Bob by Alice. (and the archaic sounding marked usage A present was given Bob by Alice.)

This is similar to the indirect passive of Japanese; while it's true that the indirect passive in Japanese usually carries a strong connotation of a negative outcome to the recipient, it's not required. Also, the Japanese indirect passive can be used in nearly any situation where one person is affected by an outcome, whereas in English it's generally only possible where an indirect object is possible in the active construction. If in English the person affected would only be described by a prepositional phrase, they generally cannot be made the subject in an indirect passive construction.

—The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs) 13:47, 23 May 2007 (UTC).

The article doesn't actually claim that about English specifically. It gives a general description of the passive voice that is true of most languages, rather than making a specific claim about English. The article English passive voice, appropriately enough, is what gives detailed information about the English passive voice. —RuakhTALK 20:02, 23 May 2007 (UTC)

Middle voice[edit]

"A few languages (such as Sanskrit, Icelandic and Classical Greek) have a middle voice": I have changed "a few" to "some". I'm into some major time nitpicking here, I guess, but it may seem like an anglophone bias to some readers. The original wording is certainly not true if it's read to mean that the middle voice is rare, and otherwise "some" will serve just as well. Bantaar (talk) 20:11, 25 December 2007 (UTC)

Active voice[edit]

Am I missing something? Where is the section on Active Voice, or am I looking in the wrong place? Perhaps a little work with the headings would help. Other than that this is a great and informative article. (talk) 15:19, 8 July 2008 (UTC)

It's right up at the top, in the introduction. — Gwalla | Talk 17:45, 8 July 2008 (UTC)
I kind of agree that it's confusing. There's a heading in for "Passive Voice" but there isn't one for Active Voice, rendering the table of contents basically useless.osrevad (talk) 06:42, 28 July 2008 (UTC)

"Poemam"; and some more general remarks[edit]

Oh dear. Poema is of course neuter of the Third, and its accusative singular is therefore poema, not "poemam".

I am tempted to leave it as is- it might serve as a warning to the unwary that the rest of the article is not all that it might be.

I do acknowledge that Voice is a difficult topic. But it seems to me that this article, as it stands, wanders all over the place without ever getting even some pretty basic nomenclature defined.

I know that Eurocentricity is a no-no. But when it come to analytic grammar our ideas and our nomenclature are, as a matter of historical fact, largely derived ultimately from the study of Greek.

It therefore seems to me that it might be a good idea to re-organize this article into three sections. The first might be just a brief introduction. The second might confine itself to the IE tongues, with emphasis on PIE, Greek, Latin, and English-- the last as the language in which he article is written. With terms clearly defined in terms of these tongues, one might in a third section proceed to discuss voice /diathesis and related subjects more broadly, including much of the valuable material already present in the article as it now stands.

Of course this is easy for me to say-- I know that I'm not sufficiently expert to edit this material along these lines.

But I guess I will fix the "poemam".

Mjhrynick (talk) 02:42, 5 March 2010 (UTC)

"To be born"[edit]

I took Latin many years ago and vaguely recall that "to be born" is not active or passive voice, but something else. I was hoping to find something on this subject in this article, but alas, do not. Can anyone help? JKeck (talk) 05:10, 17 June 2010 (UTC)

"to be born" is English -- are you looking for genus neutrum, deponens or commune, or for supine? - (talk) 09:03, 15 July 2015 (UTC)


I've just removed the sentence: "The rule against using the passive voice happens to be an appropriate guidelines most of the time." No rule is specified, no authority cited and the English is poor. Martin of Sheffield (talk) 15:53, 25 August 2011 (UTC)


I thought that using "get" as passive is informal? -- (talk) 20:20, 8 July 2014 (UTC)

The article says "Note that for some speakers of English this is not accepted and is considered colloquial or sub-standard." — Gwalla | Talk 20:58, 8 July 2014 (UTC)


This comment was inside the article, but IMHO that's a wrong place. If it's wrong, it shouldn't be inside the article. If it's doubtful, then it should be discussed here and not in the article. If it isn't wrong and if all doubts are cleared or if there are sources so one can ignore the doubts, then it should be re-inserted into the article. - (talk) 10:01, 15 July 2015 (UTC)

I, Shinobu, commented out this section because "open" is an adjective. Compare in Dutch:

  • De winkel is open. - adjective - The store is open.
  • De winkel is geopend. - static passive - The store is open. Someone must have done it, but now it's just open.
  • De winkel wordt geopend. - dynamic passive - Someone is opening the store, unlocking the door, turning the "open" sign and thus in the process of opening it.

This distinction is available in English through the use of the "be-passive" and the "got-passive", though this is not accepted by all speakers, and is considered colloquial or substandard in some circles:

  • The store is open. - adjective - The store is open.
  • The store is opened. - static passive - The store is open as someone has just opened the door.
  • The store gets opened. - dynamic passive - Someone opens the store by opening the door, unlocking the door, turning the "open" sign and thus in the process of opening it
  1. ^