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Types of Passive Constructions

§ 65.English is rich in various types of passive constructions:
1) The subject of the passive construction may correspond to

the direct object of the verb. This type of passive construction may

be called the Direct Passive.

e.g.At twilight he was carriedto the field hospital.

Then he noticed that the window in a room opposite was being

openedhe could not see by whom.
Nearly all the furniture will be takenout of the room.

Note. There are a number of verbs in English which can be used in the Passive
Voice, while with their equivalents in Russian the passive construction is impossi-
ble. To these verbs belong, for example, to approach, to attend, to answer, to kelp,
to assist, to follow, to influence, to join, to watch
and some others.

e-g. Lady Bor was assisted to her car just before tea.

The general was followed into the room by his younger daughter.
At that moment they were joined by the others.

Itshould be noted that the Direct Passive is part of two wide-
ly used constructions:

a) It forms the basis of the construction which may be called
the complex subject(see "Notes on the Syntactic Structure of the
Sentence", p.

e.g. She is said to be a first-class teacher.

The children, as usual, were busy doing all the things they

had been told not to do.
I was not allowed to chat.
He was appointed secretary of the committee.
He was seen talking to the Minister.

b) The construction with a formal it as subject may also con-
tain the passive of verbs denoting mental and physical perceptions,
suggestion, order, request and decision as well as of verbs of say-
ing, such as to agree, to announce, to arrange, to believe, to de
cide, to demand, to determine, to expect, to explain, to feel, to
know, to notice, to observe, to propose, to recommend, to report, to
require, to request, to rumour, to say, to suggest, to think, to
and the like. This passive construction is followed by a
clause introduced, as a rule, by the conjunction that,
e.g. It was explained that Roy was unaccountably absent from

duty that morning.

It was known that he would not tolerate any criticism.
It was arranged that Martin should have the room all to

It is said that she turned the job down.

Although the Direct Passive is the most commonly used passive
construction, there are certain restrictions to its application:

a) The restrictions may be due to the nature of the direct ob-
ject. The passive construction is impossible when the direct object
of the verb is expressed by an infinitive (e.g. We arranged to meet
at 5 o'clock.),
a clause (e.g. / saw that he knew about it.), a reflex-
ive pronoun or a noun with a possessive pronoun referring to the
same person as the subject of the sentence (e.g. He hurt himself-

He cut his finger.).

b) Sometimes there is no passive construction because the verb
and the direct object are so closely connected that they form a set
phrase and cannot be separated, e.g. to keep one's word, to lose
courage to lose heart, to lose one's patience, to take alarm, to
take courage, to take flight
and many others.

Certain phrases of this kind, however, admit of a passive con-
struction, e.g. to take care, to take no notice, to pay attention, to
take responsibility
and some others.

e.g. He paused at each table and then, when no notice was taken

of him, with a smile he passed on.
In his school a great deal of attention is paid to mathematics.

c) In addition to intransitive verbs which are not used in the
passive, some transitive verbs, at least in certain uses, do not oc-
cur in the passive either.

e.g. The boy resembled his father.
The hat suits (becomes) you.
The coat does not fit you.
He has (possesses) a sharp sense of humour.
He lacks confidence.
The place holds 500 people.

Yet in spite of the above restrictions, the use of the Direct
Passive is quite extensive in English.

2) There are a number of verbs in English which take two ob-
jects — a direct and indirect. The most frequently used verbs of
this kind are to give, to grant, to leave, to lend, to offer, to pay, to
promise, to send, to show, to tell
and a few others.

These verbs may have two passive constructions:

a) The Direct Passive (which has been described above).

e.g. When I came to the office a telegram was given to me.

Although a very good job was offered to me I had to turn it

As a rule, the indirect object takes the preposition to after the
verb in the Passive.

b) The indirect object of the verb may also become the subject
of the passive construction. This type of passive construction may
be called the Indirect Passive.

e.g. I was told some very interesting news.

He told me that he had been offered a well-paid job at a pub-
lishing house.

In this passive construction the verb is always followed by the
direct object (news, a job); it is called a retained object since it is
retained by the verb.

Although the Indirect Passive is a construction peculiar to En-
glish, its use is not very common. It is freely used only with the

verb to tell. In this case the direct object is mainly expressed by a
clause (a) and occasionally by a noun or pronoun (b).

e.g. a) I'm toldthat his new house will be finished soon.

I didn't care if Croxton was toldI didn't like him.
b) I am toldthings. I appear to take them in — but they just

pass through my brain and are gone.

You weren't toldanything because there isn't anything to
tell you.

The Indirect Passive is also found with set phrases containing
the verb to give (occasionally to grant) followed by a noun, e.g. to
give a chance, to give a choice, to give a job, to give an explanation,
to give an opportunity, to give a party, to give a post, to give a sen-
tence, to give a task, to give First Aid, to give news, to give notice,
to give orders, to give prominence, to give shelter, to grant an audi
ence, to grant leave
and the like.

e.g. I haven't been givena chance to explain.

He was givenan opportunity to go to Columbia to attend the

Winter Meeting of the Physical Society.
He disliked me when I had been givenmy job there.
He was givena life sentence.
On John's tenth birthday he was givena party.
He'd been grantedleave of absence from his work to make re-
at the university library.

But in free combinations the verb to give and the other verb
mentioned above are infrequent in the Indirect Passive.

e.g. To deal with two square inches of mutton, you were given a
knife and fork big enough for a roasted ox.

In the hotel Charles was shownhis room.

She had been leftan immense fortune.

"Never mind what I was promised or not promised,"he

The moment you are offeredsomething that you want — you
want something else.

Note. There are a number of verbs in English which require a direct and an in
direct object in the active construction, but they admit only of one passive соn
struction, namely, the Direct Passive. Among them we find to bring, to play, to
read, to telegraph, to write
and some others.

e.g. I wrote him a letter.> A letterwas written to him.

I played him the tune.—> The tunewas played to him.

He telegraphed me thenews. —? The news was telegraphed to me.

3) There are a great number of verbs in English that require a
prepositional object. These verbs may also be used in the passive —
the subject of the passive construction corresponds then to the
prepositional object. The preposition retains its place after the
verb. This construction may be called the Prepositional Passive.

e.g. He washighly thought ofin his village.

When they found her lying on the floor, the doctor was sent

The Prepositional Passive is found in English more often than
the Indirect Passive. Yet the use of this construction is not very
extensive either. Its application is restricted in two ways:

a) Though in principle it may be formed from any verb which
takes a prepositional object, it is regularly found with only a lim-
ited number of verbs. The most commonly occurring of them are:

(1) verbs of speakingsuch as to comment on, to speak about
(of, to), to talk about (of), to write about,

e.g. You have beena good deal talked about.

She did all the rough work which Mrs Rodd told her to do,

spoke when she was spoken to,but not otherwise, and ate a

very great deal of food at lunch.
His book was commented onby the newspapers.

(2) the verbto look in different meanings with various prepo-
sitions, such as to look at (to, upon, after, for, into),

e.g. She could feel she was being looked atand it pleased her.
The suit-cases were looked after.
He was looked upon
as their leader.

(3) verbs expressing mockery or blame,such as to frown at, to
laugh at, to mock at, to shout at, to sneer at, to spit at, to swear
at, to whistle at,

e.g. She had an uncomfortable feeling that she was being laughed at.
Julia had turned her head away hurriedly and had been
frowned at
by her mother.

(4) also a miscellaneous group of verbs including to account
for, to approve of, to ask for, to call for, to deal with, to depend
on, to disapprove of, to dispose of, to rely on, to send for, to think
and a few others,

e.g. No one could understand a word he said, and an interpreter

was sent for.

Her request was disapproved of.
At the college he was thought of as being a big man.

(5) Occasionally other verbs including set phrases, such as to
get in touch with, to make a fool of, to take care of,
etc. are
found in the Prepositional Passive construction, but their occur-
rence seems to be infrequent,

e.g. It's all taken care of.

You're being made a fool of, that's all.

b) The Prepositional Passive is not used with verbs which take
two objects, direct and prepositional. Here belong such verbs as to
announce, to dedicate, to devote, to explain (something to some
body), to point out, to propose, to say, to suggest,
etc. They can
only have a Direct Passive construction.

e.g. The difficulty was then explained to her.

Soon the engagement was announced to the family.
The mistake was pointed out to him.
A new plan was suggested to us.

The direct object after some of these verbs is rather often ex
pressed by a clause. In this case the only possible passive con-
struction is the one with a formal it as subject.

e.g. It had been explained to Sylvia that Renny had gone,

It was announced to them that the accommodation problem
was now settled.

4) There is another passive construction possible in English:
the subject of the passive construction corresponds to an adverbi-
al modifier of place in the active construction. In this case the
preposition also retains its place after the verb.

e.g. The occupant of the apartment was fully clothed, although
the bed had been slept in.

The room looked as if it had not been lived in for years.
The high-backed ugly chairs looked as if they had once been
sat in by cardinals.

The use of this construction is rare and usually occurs with
the verbs mentioned in the examples.

The Use of Finite Forms in the Passive Voice

§ 66. The use of finite forms in the Passive Voice is not exact-
ly parallel to those of the Active Voice. This can be accounted for
by two reasons: 1) the absence of certain finite forms in the pas-
sive and 2) the lexical character of the verb, namely the differen-
tiation between terminative and durative verbs.

1) The Passive Voice lacks the Future Continuous, the Future
Continuous-in-the-Past and all the Perfect Continuous forms.

2) The lexical character of the verb affects the meaning of all
the Indefinite Passive tenses.

With durative verbs the use of the Indefinite Passive tenses is
parallel to the corresponding active forms.

e.g. The plural of nouns is formed with the help of the suffix -s.

He was an ardent fighter for freedom and independence. He
was loved by millions and hated only by a handful.

His place in history is secure. He will be remembered long af-
ter his enemies have been forgotten.

She telephoned to know where the meeting would be held.

But with terminative verbs the grammatical meaning of the
Indefinite passive forms is wider than that of the corresponding
active forms. They may denote either an action or a state result-
ing from a previously accomplished action ("a resultant state").

Cf, Action State

At the time the houses in Oak The house was very solidly

Crescent were built it wasn't built.

considered that the working

classes needed baths.
Everything was settled twenty So that's all settled.

minutes after I arrived there.

I'm not often shocked, you Indeed? I am shocked to hear it.

know, but this does shock
me a little.

Note. Certain combinations of the verb to be with a participle are to be treated
as nominal predicates as they are devoid of the idea of action (see also "Verbs",
§§179, 245).

e.g. He is quite convinced that it is true.
I am preparedto believe you.

I don't know anything. They areso reserved about it.
Of course, I'm disappointed you can't come.

The Indefinite passive forms denote an action in the following

a) if the action expressed by the passive form is part of a suc-
cession of actions,

e.g. The door opened and the doctor was shown in.

Brenda and Lawrence came to trial, but no case was brought
against them and they were dismissed.

b) if the passive form denotes a recurrent action.

In this case there are indications of frequency in the sentence.
They may be expressed in various ways, mainly by adverbs of fre-
quency or by the use of nouns in the plural.

e.g. She read Byron to him, and was often puzzled by the strange

interpretations he gave to some passages.
He is invited to all the best dances.

c) if the time of the action expressed by the passive form is
indicated in the sentence by adverbial modifiers of time (including

e.g. The novel was written during the summer of 1918.
The whole affair was soon forgotten.

d) if the manner in which the action is performed (occasionally
the purpose of the action) is indicated by means of an adverbial

e.g. Nothing that's worth doing is done easily.
Tea was finished in silence.

The front door was slowly closed.

I was sent into the hospital to be X-rayed.

e) if the doer of the action is indicated in the sentence (in such
cases the doer often happens to be a non-personal agent, and the
passive form without it would be understood as expressing a state),

e.g. Soames was both annoyed and surprised by my glance.
He was disturbed by a series of explosions.

Note. Yet sometimes we find sentences in which the passive form denotes a
state even when the doer is indicated.

e.g. She looked into the bedroom; the bed was made, as though by the hand of a man.
The two houses were connected by a gallery.

If none of the above mentioned indications are found in the
sentence or in a wider context, the Indefinite passive forms gener-
ally express (with terminative verbs) a state resulting from a pre-
viously accomplished action.

e.g. We're defeated. Let's go back to New York and start all over


A table is set out for luncheon in the garden.
The door was locked; there was nobody in sight.
The big bed was covered with a quilt.
Her car, a green Fiat, was parked outside.

If you come so late the front door will be locked and you'll
have to go by the back door.

Note, The Future Indefinite Passive tends, on the whole, to denote an action
(not a state) even if there are no special indications such as those described above.

e.g. You needn't worry. Every precaution will be taken.

"What do I need to take with me?" "Nothing. Everything you need will be
provided for you"

§67. The use of the Present and Past Continuous Passive is
parallel to the use of the corresponding active forms.

e-g. What sort of research is being done, and who is doing it?

He lost his temper and said he was always being made to do

everything he didn't want to.

The use of the Perfect passive forms is also parallel to the cor-
responding active forms.

e.g. You can see that this glass has been used.

"Why did you come?" "I've been turned out of the place
where I live."

Ever since I came into this silly house I have been made to
look like a fool.

Nancy looked displeased and told me she had been sent to
fetch the breakfast tray.

All of a sudden he realized the full force of what he had been

I suspected that I had been followed and watched since I ar-
rived in London.

Note 1. As has been mentioned before, the Future Perfect is not of frequent
occurrence in the active. In the passive its use is quite uncommon.

Note 2. The sentences The work is finished and The work has been finished are
somewhat similar in meaning. Yet there is a difference between them: the former
serves to express a state in the present which is the result of the previously accom-
plished action; the latter denotes the action proper which is accomplished by the
present moment.

The Choice of the Passive Construction

§ 68. The passive is not the reverse of the active. The two con-
structions are not parallel in their use and serve different purposes.

As a general rule, the passive construction is used when there
is no need to mention the agent of the action because it is either
easily understood from the situation or context (a), or because it is
self-evident (b), or because it happens to be any number of uni-
dentified people (c).

e.g. a) Roger was invited to dinner at their house every Sunday

(by the people living in the house).

The ambulance arrived and she was taken to hospital (by
the ambulance).

b) Her two brothers were killed in the war.
The telegram had been delivered in time.
He was arrested in a hotel.

c) In my young days it was considered bad manners to take

medicines with one's meals. It was on a par with blow
ing your nose at the dinner table.

It just wasn't done. In industry coal is now used much
less than before.

Occasionally the passive is used when the agent of the action
is not known or kept secret for some reason.

e.g. All my books were totally disarranged in ray absence and now
I can't find the book I want.

At night his car was broken into and a few things were stolen
from it.

I was told that you were getting a divorce from your husband.

As there is no need to mention the agent of the action in the
above cases, the Passive Voice makes it possible to shift the focus
of attention onto other parts of the sentence.

Although there is usually no mention of the agent of the ac-
tion in passive constructions, it sometimes becomes necessary to
indicate the doer and then a by-phrase is used.

e.g. Other possibilities were talked of by some of my colleagues.

In this case a corresponding active construction is possible,
e.g. Some of my colleagues talked of other possibilities.

However, there appears to be a difference between the two sen-
tences which lies in the fact that in the active construction it is the
words other possibilities that are made the centre of communication,
and in the passive construction the focus is shifted to some of my
(End position is generally connected with a stronger
stress and thus a word is made more prominent in this case.) The
passive may be called a word-order device here. As logical stress is
laid on two different parts of the sentence in the active and in the
passive, the two constructions cannot be regarded as interchange-
able. As has been earlier said, they serve different purposes.

The following examples illustrate the use of passive construc-
tions in which stress is laid on the doer of the action:

e-g- You can't go wrong if you are advised by me. Auntie Alice is

always right.

His pleasant colour was heightened by exercise.
But has your boy's conduct ever been influenced by your rea-

With certain verbs the passive is impossible without the men-
tion of the agent as the sentence would be meaningless without it.
This is the case with such verbs as to accent, to accompany, to at
tend, to attract, to bring about, to characterize, to cause, to con
front, to control, to enhance, to follow, to govern, to join, to influ
ence, to mark, to overtake, to rule, to seize, to set off, to visit and
some others.

e.g. The answer was followedby an impressive silence.

He was accompanied by his father who was very nervous.

He isvery easily influencedby the ideas of anyone whom he

Then my attention was caught by the noise coming from be-
hind the fence.


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