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Grammatical voice

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Grammatical voice is a verb-form that indicates the relationship between the subject and the action expressed by the verb.

In English not only can one say I wrote this page, but one can also say This page was written by me. The former sentence is said to be in the active voice and the latter in the passive voice. In other words, they can be summarized as:

  • Active: A does B
  • Passive: B is done by A

The subject and the direct object switch places. The direct object ("this page") becomes the subject in the passive sentence.

Some languages (e.g. Sanskrit) have a so-called "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.

Some people consider it bad practice to use the passive voice in English, because it obscures the subject. Of course, there is still one situation where the passive will always be popular, despite this advice. Many people find it far more appealing to write the second of these two sentences:

  • I made mistakes.
  • Mistakes were made.
The passive voice is very often found in academic and journalistic writings. The passive voice is also used to avoid "blame". For example, "The bombing was attributed to unknown freedom fighters."

See also:

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