Jan 4 • Thanos Mengrelis

The Art of Passive Voice in English: A Deep Dive

Welcome to our exploration of passive voice in English! Often overlooked in favor of the active voice, it adds formality to writing and emphasizes key aspects. Let's delve into this sophisticated aspect of English grammar together.

Welcome to our linguistic exploration! Today, we're delving into the nuanced world of passive voice in English. Often overshadowed by its more straightforward counterpart, the active voice, the passive voice holds a significant place in both spoken and written English. Its applications span from adding a formal tone to academic and business writing to emphasizing certain aspects of a sentence. Let’s unravel this sophisticated aspect of English grammar together.

1. Exploring the Forms of Passive Voice
Tense Forms: A Timeline Perspective
In the passive voice, the object of an action becomes the subject of the sentence. This shift is not just a matter of rearranging words; it alters the focus and tone of the sentence.

Let's look at how this applies across different tenses:
Present Simple Passive: Used for habitual actions or general truths. For example, "The book is read aloud in class," focuses on the action of reading rather than who reads it.
Past Simple Passive: When discussing past events without specifying the doer. "The cake was baked," tells us the action without revealing the baker.
Future Simple Passive: Offers a prediction or a future plan. "The meeting will be held tomorrow," indicates the future occurrence of the meeting.
Present Perfect Passive: Highlights the completion of an action.
"The assignment has been completed," suggests the importance of the finished task.
Past Perfect Passive: Speaks of an action completed before a past moment. "The letter had been sent," emphasizes the completion of sending before another past event.
Future Perfect Passive: Indicates an action that will be completed before a certain future point. "The project will have been finished by next month," underlines the anticipated completion.  

Gerund and Infinitive Forms: Beyond the Basic Tenses
Passive voice isn’t limited to standard tenses; it extends into more complex structures like gerunds and infinitives.
Gerund Forms: When the ‘-ing’ form of a verb is used passively. For instance, "Being given a choice," where the focus is on the experience of receiving a choice.
Infinitive Forms: Include basic infinitive and perfect infinitive. The basic form, "to be appreciated," shifts emphasis from the appreciator to the feeling of appreciation.
The perfect infinitive, "to have been chosen," reflects on the honor of being selected in the past.  

Special Cases: Causative and Impersonal Passive Forms
Causative Passive: It's about having something done by someone else. For example, "He had his car repaired," where the focus is on the outcome - the car being repaired, not who repaired it.
Impersonal Passive: Often used in formal or academic settings. "It is said that the treasure is buried here," focuses on the rumor rather than the rumor spreader.  

2. The Role of Verbs in Passive Voice
Verbs play a pivotal role in constructing the passive voice. Understanding the types of verbs is crucial in correctly forming passive sentences.

Transitive Verbs: The Backbone of Passive
Transitive verbs, which require an object, are the primary candidates for passive sentences. For instance, "The song was sung," where 'song' is the object receiving the action.

Intransitive Verbs: The Exception Typically, intransitive verbs, which don’t require an object, do not fit into passive structures. However, some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive, depending on their usage in a sentence.

Ditransitive and Ergative Verbs: Adding Complexity
Ditransitive verbs, which take two objects, offer two passive possibilities. For example, "A book was given to her," or "She was given a book." Ergative verbs, functioning both transitively and intransitively, add another layer of complexity. The passive form can be used to shift focus from the subject to the object, as in "The door was opened."
3. The Why and How of Passive Voice
Passive voice is not just a grammatical form; it's a stylistic choice with specific purposes.

Why Use Passive Voice?
It's chosen for various reasons, including emphasizing the action or result rather than the doer, maintaining an objective or formal tone, and sometimes, when the doer is unknown or irrelevant.

Balancing Passive with Active
While passive voice has its place, it's essential to balance it with active voice. Active voice is direct and clear, making your writing more engaging. Passive voice, when overused, can make sentences feel cumbersome or vague. The key is to use it strategically to highlight certain elements of your sentence without losing clarity or reader engagement.

4. Passive Voice in Business and Academic English
In the realms of Business and Academic English, passive voice plays a significant role.

Business English: Formality and Objectivity
Business documents often use passive voice for a formal tone or to avoid assigning direct responsibility. It's common in reports, formal communications, and customer relations.

Academic English: Focus on the Information
In academic writing, particularly in research papers and scientific writing, passive voice helps maintain an objective tone. It's used to focus on the process or results, rather than the researcher, thereby lending an impersonal, unbiased air to the writing.

Wrapping Up
The passive voice is a powerful tool in the English language, offering versatility and depth to our expressions. Its varied forms and applications across tenses, gerunds, infinitives, and special cases like causative and impersonal constructions, provide a broad spectrum of expression.
By understanding when and how to use it, particularly in balancing it with active voice, we can enhance both our spoken and written communication.
In the specific contexts of Business and Academic English, mastering the passive voice is not just a grammatical skill but a key to effective and professional communication.

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