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Passive Construction - Part 1

When a sentence has an active agent (whether known or unknown) and a transitive verb with an object, the sentence can have passive construction. Subject is called ‘agent’ or ‘causer’ when it is responsible for action which brings about change in shape, size, position, nature, emotion, feeling, existence, behaviour, state etc. Australia defeated England by 2 wickets - England was defeated by Australia by 2 wickets. Someone stole the shoes from the shoe rack. / Shoes were stolen from the shoe rack (by someone). A. Passivization does not apply for following verbs which are used only in Active Form

1) Intransitive verbs (since there is no object):

abound, act (= “behave”), appear (= “become visible”), apply (= “be relevant”), arise, arrive, behave, belong, benefit, breathe, coincide, come, comply, dance, die, decline (= “decrease”), deteriorate, differ, dip (= “decrease slightly”), disappear, do (=”manage” or “suffice”), emerge, exist, fail, fall, fare, flow, fluctuate, function, get by (= “cope”), give up (= “despair), go ahead (= “proceed”), go, gleam, glisten, glow, happen, interact, intersect, intrude, jump, increase, laugh, live, last, lie, live, loom, manage (= “be successful”), matter, object, occur, persist, prevail, proceed, profit, protrude, react, recede, recur, regress, relent, remain, reply, result, rise, run (= “go”), smile, sneeze, stay, strive, struggle, succeed (= “be successful”), succumb, suffice, surge, take place, think, thrive, turn up (= “attend”),vacillate, vanish, wait, waver, work

These verbs do not take noun object, (nor adjective) but only adverb and therefore cannot be converted to any passive form.

Western Ghats abound with rare species and medicinal plants. / She is acting funny./ That rule doesn’t apply to this case./ I could manage successfully for a week with little help. / This much of money will do (suffice) for now. / Tomato price has increased by 30 % in one week/ The scientists are working on the problem

2) Linking Verbs such as appear (= “seem”), be, become, comprise, consist of, feel, go, grow, look (=“seem”), make, number (+ number), remain, seem, smell, sound, stay, taste, turn and turn into. These verbs are not transitive and hence do not have object which is a necessary condition of passivization. Moreover these verbs are also not agentive in the sense that there is no ‘causer’. Thus in absence of agent/causer and object, it is not possible to use these verbs in passive form.

The curd is / has turned sour. Nucleus of an atom consists /(NOT: is consisted) of neutron and proton. The crowd( NOT: was ) numbered more than 100. She (NOT: is appeared) / appears sad. Plants (NOT: are) / have grown tall.

3) Stative Verbs such as average, consist of, cost, cover (+ area), equal (+ quantity), deserve, extend (+ distance), fit, have (= “possess”), lack, last, mean (= “correspond to”), measure, occupy (+ volume), resemble, stretch (= “measure”) and suit apart from comprise and hold (+ capacity). These verbs take object but they are not ‘agentive’

As the terrain extends ({NOT: is extended) towards north, it gains elevation. She lacks / {NOT: is lacked) practical experience. The huge dinner table and chairs occupy/ are occupied more than half of kitchen space. That tank holds 500 litre of water. Incorrect: 500 litres of water (can be) is held by that tank.

4) Symmetric verbs such as benefit, equal, marry, meet, profit, resemble. Even though these verbs are transitive, passivization is not possible because subject is not ‘agentive’ and moreover both subject and object can be interchanged and yet convey same meaning with same truth value, though with difference in emphasis and focus.

You resemble your aunt. / Incorrect: Your aunt is resembled by you./ Your aunt resembles you.

5) Verbs for which subject is not a conscious actor but an involuntary participant or recipient of action as an affected participant. E.g: encounter, experience, get, have, hear, meet, receive, see, suffer, and undergo and also notable is ‘make a mistake’

She is undergoing psychiatric treatment. > Incorrect: Psychiatric treatment is being undergone by her.

I often experience tingling sensations in my feet when I stand after waking up.> Incorrect: Tingling sensation is experienced by me......

6) When verb implies habitual action. For example verb ‘watch’ can be both dynamic as in ‘The police is watching the movements of the suspect.’ Or habitual as in ‘He watches news on TV at 9.’

Correct: Movement of the suspect is being watched by the police. [dynamic ‘watch’]

Incorrect: News on TV at 9 is watched by him.[habitual ‘watch’]

7) Mental verbs of cognition (know, believe/doubt, imagine, think, understand, recognize, remember, suspect...), emotion (like/dislike, love/hate, adore, admire, desire, appreciate, want, need ...), perception (see, hear, smell, touch, taste, feel, seem ...) cannot be used in passive voice if (a) they are not used in dynamic sense where subject in active voice behaves as agent making a conscious effort, or (b) object undergoes change in state/status or (c) object isaffected

She knows how to play chess./ Incorrect: How to play chess is known to her.

Correct: That place/ The Principal of the school is known/unknown to me.

My grandma could recognise her childhood friend. / Incorrect: The childhood friend of grandma could be recognised by her.

The device recognises face. / Correct:Face is recognised by the device. (in this case ‘recognise’ is active)

She dislikes western rock music./ Incorrect: Western rock music is disliked by her.

I saw someone in the market resembling your sister./ Incorrect: Someone resembling your sister was seen by me in the market.

The physician hasn’t yet seen the report. /Correct: The report hasn’t yet been seen by the physician. (refers to state/status of report)

The child needs nutrition./Incorrect: Nutrition is needed by the child.

I smell some plastic burning./ Incorrect: Burning of some plastic is smelled by me.

The dogs are smelling narcotics to train for detection/ Correct: Narcotics is being smelled by the dogs to train for detection. (in this casedog is makin an effort to ‘smell’)

She thinks watching TV is waste of time./ Incorrect: Watching TV is thought by her to be a waste of time.

The rescue team thought of an alternate strategy./ Correct: An alternate strategy was thought of by the rescue team.

B. Passivization allows causer/ agent to be dropped or suppressed in the passive voice when

It needs to be suppressed to focus on the affected participant or when causer is unknown or it is ‘understood’ because of context, as in the following cases.

Forest rangers killed the man-eater. / The man-eater was killed. People know that restaurant very well. / That restaurant is very well known.

The commander told the border force to be more vigilant. / The border force was told to be more vigilant.

Govt rushed emergency supplies to the cyclone-hit coastal areas. / Emergency supplies were rushed to .....

Road Construction Company cut more than 1000 trees to build road through the forest./ More than 1000 trees were cut to build road through the forest.

Forest fire has destroyed more than 100 acres of forest land./ California is very much prone to forest fires. More than 100 acres of forest land is destroyed every year.

C. Passivization without reversal of position of subject

1. This construction is possible with some Ergative Intransitive Verbs where cause is not an active agent/participant (a living being with mind and consciousness). Such verbs are:

Group: - en verbs (blacken, brighten, broaden, dampen, deepen, darken, hasten, heighten, lighten, lengthen, lessen, redden, strengthen, whiten, widen, and weaken)

Enthusiasm was dampened by the poor result of the experiment./ Enthusiasm dampened with the poor result of the experiment.[‘poor result’ is not an active agent, though a cause, and in Active construction ‘poor result’ is not the subject of the sentence.]

Group: start/finish (begin, commence, launch, open, resume, start, cease, close, end, finish, halt, stop, terminate)

The generator gets restarted by the automatic changeover switch. - The generator restarts because of the automatic changeover switch.

Group: increase/decrease (contract, decrease, diminish, reduce, shrink, slow, accelerate, accumulate, build up, expand, extend, improve, increase, lift, multiply)

Price is increased by demand. - Price increases with demand.

Group: change location (advance, move, pass, progress, return, shift, transfer)

The lamp has been shifted to the bed room./ The lamp has shifted to the bed room.

Group: change state (boil, break, burn, change, condense, contract, cool down, develop, dry, enlarge, evaporate, expand, grow (= cultivate), heat up, improve, melt, relax, shrink, stretch, turn (= become), turn into, wake (up), warm up)

The taste was improved by adding salt and spice. – The taste improved after adding salt and spices.

Group : meet (associate, bond, combine, connect, join, link, meet, unite)

Now the highways are joined by the by the ring road. – Now the highways join via the bypass.

Group : move without travelling (divide, move, operate, rotate, run (= operate), spin, stand up, stretch, turn(round), twist)

The elastic gets stretched up to 40 centimetres. – The elastic stretches up to 40 centimetres.

Group: gather/disperse (accumulate, add, assemble, build up, collect, combine, fill, gather, break up, disperse, divide, separate)

The mob was dispersed by teargas shell. – The mob dispersed because of tear gas shelling,

Group: continue (carry on, continue, restart, resume)

The discussion was resumed after lunch. – The discussion resumed after the lunch.

2. Verbs whose active and passive forms (often without ‘by’) are the same without reversal of positions of subject and object

accompany/ be accompanied by, aim (+ to verb) / be aimed at (+-ing), bother about/ be bothered by (or about), comprise/ be comprised of, confuse/ be confused by (or about), face/ be faced with, oppose/ be opposed to and suit/ be suited to.


I accompanied my friends. / I was accompanied by my friends. [My friends were accompanied by me.]

Certain exercises do not suit my age./ Certain exercises are not suited to my age. [My age is not suted to ....]

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