The Passive Transformation

All passive sentences are derived from active sentences with transitive verbs. We can think of the subject of an active sentence as the agent, or doer of the action, and of the direct object as the patient, or the thing that gets the action done to it.



Note that although the sentences differ in emphasis (the first is a sentence about Alice, the second is a sentence about the ball and the fact that it was kicked) the basic meaning remains the same:

Alice is still the agent, or the one who does the kicking, and the ball is still the patient, or the thing that gets kicked.

The rule that derives passive sentences from active ones is like a recipe. It's got three steps:

  1. The direct object of the active sentence becomes the grammatical subject of the passive sentence.

  2. The verb is replaced by a form of be that corresponds in tense and aspect to the form in the original sentence, and the verb stem becomes the past participle

    kicked (= past + kick) becomes was kicked (= past + be +en + kick)

  3. The subject of the active sentence becomes the object of the preposition by in an adverbial agent phrase.


The diagram looks like a pattern VI (sentence with an intransitive verb) but it is really the passive of a pattern VII sentence (sentence with a transitive verb).

Note that the verb string is past + kick + en

Similarly, the diagram of a passive of pattern X (sentence with a NP objective complement) looks a bit like a pattern V.

From The club elected Heloise president.

But again, it is passive of X.

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Comments to: Sara Kimball
Last updated January, 2001