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Encyclopedia > Grammatical voice

In grammar, the voice of a verb describes the relationship between the action (or state) that the verb expresses and the participants identified by its arguments (subject, object, etc.). When the subject is the agent or actor of the verb, the verb is in the active voice. When the subject is the patient, target or undergoer of the action, it is said to be in the passive voice. Grammar is the study of rules governing the use of language. ... A syntactic verb argument, in linguistics, is a phrase that appears in a relationship with the verb in a proposition. ... The subject of a sentence is one of the two main parts of a sentence, the other being the predicate. ...


For example, in the sentence:

The cat ate the mouse

the verb "ate" is in the active voice, but in the sentence:

The mouse was eaten by the cat

the verbal phrase "was eaten" is passive.


In a transformation from an active-voice clause to an equivalent passive-voice construction, the subject and the direct object switch grammatical roles. The direct object gets promoted to subject, and the subject demoted to an (optional) complement. In the examples above, the mouse serves as the direct object in the active-voice version, but becomes the subject in the passive version. The subject of the active-voice version, the cat, becomes part of a prepositional phrase in the passive version of the sentence, and could be left out entirely. Transformational grammar is a broad term describing grammars (almost exclusively those of natural languages) which have been developed in a Chomskian tradition. ... In grammar, a clause is a word or group of words with a subject and a verb. ... An object in grammar is a sentence element and part of the sentence predicate. ... A complement is a phrase that fits a particular slot in the syntax requirements of a parent phrase. ...

Contents

The passive voice in English

Main article: English passive voice

The English language uses a periphrastic passive voice; that is, it is not a single word form, but rather a construction making use of other word forms. Specifically, it is made up of a form of the auxiliary verb to be and a past participle of the main verb. In other languages, such as Latin, the passive voice is simply marked on the verb by inflection: poemam legit "He reads the poem"; poema legitur "The poem is read". In English as in many other languages, the passive voice is the form of a transitive verb whose grammatical subject serves as the patient, receiving the action of the verb. ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... Periphrasis, like its Latin counterpart circumlocution, is a figure of speech where the meaning of a word or phrase is indirectly expressed through several or many words. ... In linguistics, a participle is a kind of verbal adjective; it indicates that the noun it modifies is a participant in the action that the participle refers to. ... Latin was the language originally spoken in the region around Rome called Latium. ... In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification or marking of a word (or more precisely lexeme) to reflect grammatical (that is, relational) information, such as gender, tense, number or person. ...


The middle voice

A few languages (such as Sanskrit, Icelandic and Classical Greek) have a 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 appears syntactically active but semantically passive, putting it in the middle voice. In Classical Greek, the middle voice is often reflexive, denoting that the subject acts on or for itself, such as "The boy washes himself." or "The boy washes." It can be transitive or intransitive. It can occasionally be used in a causative sense, such as "The father causes his son to be set free." or "The father ransoms his son." The Sanskrit language ( , ) is a classical language of India, a liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and one of the 22 official languages of India. ... For other uses, see Syntax (disambiguation). ... Semantics (Greek semantikos, giving signs, significant, symptomatic, from sema, sign) refers to the aspects of meaning that are expressed in a language, code, or other form of representation. ...


Many deponent verbs in Latin represent survivals of the Proto-Indo-European middle voice; many of these in turn survive as obligatory pseudo-reflexive verbs in the Romance languages such as French and Spanish. A deponent verb is a verb that is active in meaning but takes its form from a different voice, most commonly the middle or passive. ... Latin is an ancient Indo-European language originally spoken in Latium, the region immediately surrounding Rome. ... The Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) is the hypothetical common ancestor of the Indo-European languages. ... In grammar, a reflexive verb is a verb whose semantic agent and patient (typically represented syntactically by the subject and the direct object) are the same. ... The Romance languages, also called Romanic languages, are a subfamily of the Italic languages, specifically the descendants of the Vulgar Latin dialects spoken by the common people evolving in different areas after the break-up of the Roman Empire. ...


Other grammatical voices

Some languages have even more grammatical voices. For example, Classic Mongolian features five voices: active, passive, causative, reciprocal and cooperative.


The antipassive voice deletes or demotes the object of transitive verbs, and promotes the actor to an intransitive subject. This voice is very common among ergative languages (which may feature passive voices as well), but rare among nominative-accusative languages. The antipassive voice is a verb voice found mostly in ergative languages. ... An ergative-absolutive language (or just ergative language) is one that marks the subject of transitive verbs distinctly from the subject of intransitive verbs and the object of transitive verbs. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ...


There are also phenomena that look at first glance like they change the valence of a verb, but in fact do not. So called hierarchical or inversion languages are of this sort. Their agreement system will be sensitive to an external person or animacy hierarchy (or a combination of both): 1 > 2 > 3 or Anim > Inan and so forth. E.g., in Meskwaki (an Algonquian language), verbs inflect for both subject and object, but agreement markers do not have inherent values for these. Rather, a third marker, the direct or inverse marker, indicates the proper interpretation: ne-wa:pam-e:-w-a [1-look.at-DIR-3-3Sg] "I am looking at him", but ne-wa:pam-ekw-w-a [1-look.at-INV-3-3Sg] "He is looking at me". Some scholars (notably Rhodes) have analyzed this as a kind of obligatory passivization dependent on animacy, while others have claimed it is not a voice at all, but rather see inversion as yet another kind of alignment type, parallel to nominative/accusative, ergative/absolutive, split-S, and fluid-S alignments. Valence is a scientific term in chemistry to describe electrons in the outermost orbital. ... Inversion has different meanings in different fields of knowledge: Something that is inverted or the process by which an inverse is obtained. ... Inversion has different meanings in different fields of knowledge: Something that is inverted or the process by which an inverse is obtained. ... The Meskwaki are of the Algonquian origin from the Eastern Woodland Culture areas. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... An ergative-absolutive language (or simply ergative) is one that treats the agent of transitive verbs distinctly from the subject of intransitive verbs and the object of transitive verbs. ... In linguistics, an active language or active-stative language is one where the only argument of an intransitive verb is marked sometimes in the same way as the agent of a transitive verb (that is, like a subject in English), and sometimes in the same way as the direct object...


The passive voice in topic-prominent languages

Topic-prominent languages like Mandarin tend not to employ the passive voice as frequently. Mandarin-speakers construct the passive voice by prefixing the active noun phrase with bei- and rearranging the usual word order. For example, this sentence using active voice: A topic-prominent language is one that organizes its syntax so that sentences have a topic-comment (or theme-rheme) structure, where the topic is the thing being talked about (predicated) and the comment is what is said about the topic. ... Mandarin, or Beifanghua (Chinese: 北方話; Pinyin: Běifānghuà; literally Northern Dialect(s)), or Guanhua (Traditional Chinese: 官話; Simplified Chinese: 官话; Pinyin: Guānhuà; literally official speech) is a category of related Chinese dialects spoken across most of northern and southwestern China. ...


Note: the first line is in Traditional Chinese while the second is Simplified Chinese.

咬了 這個 男人。
咬了 这个 男人。
Gou yao-le zhege nanren.
dog bite-PAST this man
"A dog bit this man."

corresponds to this sentence using passive voice:

這個 男人 咬了。
这个 男人 咬了。
Zhege nanren bei gou yao-le.
This man by dog bite-PAST.
"This man was bitten by a dog."

In addition, through the addition of the auxiliary verb "to be" (shi) the passive voice is frequently used to emphasise the identity of the actor. This example places emphasis on the dog, presumably as opposed to some other animal:

這個 男人 咬了。
这个 男人 咬了。
Zhege nanren shi bei gou yao-le.
This man is by dog bite-PAST.
"This man was bitten by a dog."

Although a topic-prominent language, Japanese employs the passive voice quite frequently, and has two types of passive voice, one that corresponds to that in English and an indirect passive not found in English. This indirect passive is used when something undesirable happens to the speaker.

泥坊 財布 盗まれた。
Kare wa dorobō ni saifu wo nusumareta.
He TOPIC thief AGENT wallet OBJECT steal-PASSIVE-PAST
"His wallet was stolen by a thief."
彼女 吐かれた。
Boku wa kanojo ni uso wo tsukareta.
I TOPIC her AGENT lie OBJECT tell-PASSIVE-PAST.
"I was lied to by her." (or "She lied to me.")

The seventh person in Baltic-Finnic languages

Some languages do not contrast voices, but similar-looking persons. For example, Baltic-Finnic languages such as Finnish and Estonian have a "passive", which conceptually postulates a never-mentioned "seventh person" (called "passive" or "common person" in Finnish, 7th being the successor after the six singular and plural persons) rather than varying subjectivity or objectivity. For example, translating the sentence "The house was blown down" as Talo puhallettiin maahan would give the idea that some unmentioned person is blowing the house down by the force of his breath. Also, transitivity may be used, such that the fourth-person Ongelma ratkaistiin, which uses the transitive, means "Someone solved the problem", while the fourth-person Ongelma ratkesi uses the intransitive anticausative, and means "The problem was solved". Baltic-Finnic languages are a subgroup of Finno-Ugric languages, spoken around the Baltic Sea by about 6 million people. ... A transitive verb is a verb that requires both a subject and one or more objects. ...


Dynamic and static passive

Some languages draw a distinction between static (or stative) passive voice, and dynamic (or eventive) passive voice. Examples include German, Spanish or Dutch. "Static" means that an action was done to the subject at a certain point in time, whereas "dynamic" means that an action takes place.


In German

Static passive auxiliary verb: sein


Dynamic passive auxiliary verb: werden


Ich bin am 20. August geboren ("I was born on August 20", static)


Ich wurde am 20. August geboren ("I became born on August 20", dynamic)


In Spanish

Spanish has two verbs corresponding to English be: ser and estar. (The two verbs differ somewhat in meaning.) Perhaps surprisingly, it has two passive voices, both periphrastic, one using each of these verbs. Ser is used to form the ordinary (dynamic) passive voice:

La puerta es abierta. (The door is opened; i.e., [Someone] opens the door.)
La puerta es cerrada. (The door is closed; i.e., [Someone] closes the door.)

Estar is used to form the static passive voice:

La puerta está abierta. (The door is open; perhaps [Someone] has opened the door.)
La puerta está cerrada. (The door is closed; perhaps [Someone] has closed the door.)

In both cases, the verb's participle is used as the complement (as is sometimes the case in English).


In Dutch

Static passive auxiliary verb: zijn


Dynamic passive auxiliary verb: worden


De muur is geverfd. (There is paint on the wall, static)


De muur wordt geverfd. (Someone is painting the wall, dynamic)


List of voices

Voices found in various languages include:

The mediopassive voice is a grammatical voice which subsumes the meanings of both the middle voice and the passive voice. ... The impersonal passive voice is a verb voice that decreases the valency of an intransitive verb (which has valency one) to zero. ... The antipassive voice is a verb voice found mostly in ergative languages. ... Reflexive voice refers to where the subject of a sentence is both the subject and an object or indirect object of the sentence. ... A reciprocal is a linguistic structure that marks a particular kind of relationship between grammatical agents. ... The causative voice is a grammatical voice promoting the oblique argument of a transitive verb to an actor argument. ... The adjutative voice is a grammatical voice carrying the meaning to help to. The subject of a verb in the adjutative voice is not an agent of the action denoted by the verb, but is assisting an (unstated) agent in performing the action. ... The applicative voice is a grammatical voice which promotes an oblique argument of a transitive verb to the (core) patient argument. ... In grammar, a circumstantial voice, or circumstantial passive voice, is a voice that promotes an oblique argument of a verb to the role of subject; the underlying subject may then be expressed as an oblique argument. ...

See also

In linguistics, conjugation is the creation of derived forms of a verb from its principal parts by inflection (regular alteration according to rules of grammar). ... Dative shifting is a grammatical process by which an oblique argument of a verb, usually one functioning as a recipient or a benefactive (roles often expressed by datives), is placed in the same grammatical role as a patient, increasing the valency of the verb and forming a clause with two... Dr. David Bourland coined the term E-Prime, short for English Prime, in the 1965 work A Linguistic Note: Writing in E-Prime to refer to the English language modified by prohibiting the use of the verb to be. E-Prime arose from Alfred Korzybskis General Semantics and his... In English as in many other languages, the passive voice is the form of a transitive verb whose grammatical subject serves as the patient, receiving the action of the verb. ... In linguistics, valency or valence refers to the capacity of a verb to take a specific number and type of arguments (noun phrase positions). ...


 
 

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