For example in this sentence:

  • "Your message was sent"

I think here sent is not the past form. It's an adjective right? Or isn't it?

  • 1
    Yes, it's called a short passive. But "sent" is not an adjective -- it's a past participle used in combination with "was" to form the passive voice.
    – BillJ
    May 26, 2017 at 15:40
  • Personally I think my tendency is specifically to use the passive voice when I can't otherwise come up with a good subject. For instance, when I don't know who or what sent the message - only that it was sent. This example is precisely how I would write it. May 26, 2017 at 18:05

4 Answers 4


Technically speaking, your sentence does have a subject:

Your message was sent.

with your message being the subject.

Your example is correct. If you want additionally to specify who performed the action, introduce them with by:

The book was written by him.

  • Message is an object not subject
    – user55625
    May 26, 2017 at 12:17
  • 7
    @user236989 You are confusing the syntactic role of message, which is subject of your sentence, with its semantic role, which is patient of the action. In an active sentence the semantic patient acts as syntactic object of the verb, and the semantic agent acts as syntactic subject; in a passive sentence the patient acts as syntactic subject of the verb and the semantic agent is either omitted or designated with a preposition phrase headed by by: "The message was sent by him". May 26, 2017 at 12:24
  • 1
    @user236989 Look. We have some real-life action. Someone or something sends a message. This action has an actor - entity that performs the action - and thing the action is done on. "Normal" way to say it in English is to make the actor the subject, the thing - the object, the action - the verb: "He sent the message". The other way - passive voice - is to make the thing the subject, then put a special construction - to be <past participle 2> [by <actor>]. In this case, gramaticaly speaking, the thing becomes subject, verb is to be, object is PP2.
    – olegst
    May 26, 2017 at 12:43
  • 1
    @user236989 Hence why it becomes 'your messages were sent', because 'your messages' are the subject - the verb agrees with them. The whole point of the passive is that it makes the patient, the thing which is acted on in some way, the subject and the agent, the doer, an oblique which can be dropped. This is precisely to give emphasis to the patient or to elide the actor. Hence the so-called politician's apology: "mistakes were made". Who made the mistakes? Well, we better not talk about that. Or alternatively, 'he was killed by a car', because it's not as though the car had any agency
    – Au101
    May 26, 2017 at 21:26
  • 1
    @user236989 Note also 'he was killed by a car' because he is the subject, whereas 'the car killed him', because him is the object
    – Au101
    May 26, 2017 at 21:27

You are right! "sent" is not a past tense verb; it's a form of past participle. The past participle is needed in prototypical passive structure. The subject1 in your sentence is your message.

ACTIVE : Someonesubject sentpast tense verb your message

PASSIVE : Your messagesubject was sentpast participle by someone

In English passive structure, the by-phrase (by someone here) can be omitted if you think it's unimportant or if it's unknown. The passive structure with the by-phrase is called a long passive; the passive structure without the by-phrase is called a short passive.

1 The subject is not necessarily the doer of the action. See 5.1 subject and predictate

  • You guys got me confused subject is the doer/reciever of action as far as I know 😑 . Now i dont think "message" here is a subject
    – user55625
    May 26, 2017 at 17:53
  • 1
    @user236989 "Your nessage" is the subject. No, it's no necessarily the doer. Please click the link. May 26, 2017 at 20:27

You sent a message.

What happened? "sent". Who "sent"? You.

Subject: You

Predicate: sent

Object: (a) message

Your message was sent.

What happened? "was sent". What "was sent"? Your message.

Subject: (Your) message

Predicate: was sent


All sentences need subjects (except in some conversational English). The confusion lies in the difference between active and passive. The key difference isn't word form, it's the function.

In the active voice, the subject does the action, while in the passive voice, the subject receives the action.

Therefore, in this sentence:

You sent the message.

"You" is the subject, and does the action (sending the message).

However, in this sentence:

Your message was sent.

"Your message" is the subject, and it receives the action of sending. How do we know that "your message" is the subject? One simple way is to notice that it's before the verb. Remember that in English, the subject comes before the verb except in some poetry and really old literature. Another, more contextual, way you can identify the subject is by remembering that in the passive voice, the subject receives the action.

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