Can you explain to me how "being watched" in this case becomes a passive?

a lady spent four days being watched by a girl.

  • The problem with your question is that it doesn't explicitly distinguish between the sentence being in the active voice (which it is) and "being watched" being a verb in the passive voice (which it is—but only if taken out of context). Here, the subject (or agent) is not actually "the girl" but "a woman." As such, while still a typically passive verb construction, "being watched" is not, technically, passive. Mainly because the active verb in the sentence is spent. – Jason Bassford Apr 30 '18 at 0:32

Do you know how the passive voice is formed in English? It is formed by taking the verb to be and following it with the past participle of the verb whose passive voice form you want to get. For example, all of these are the passive voice forms of the verbs to see, to watch and to give respectively:

to be seen
to be watched
to be given

Now, there is another thing in English called present participle. Present participles are formed by taking the bare infinitive form of a verb (the base form without the infinitive marker to) and adding an "ing" to the end of it. Thus, be becomes being, see becomes seeing and give becomes giving. Therefore, technically speaking, the present participle of the phrase to be watched should be being watched which initially started as a passive voice construction and has been persevered as such even after we turned it into a participial phrase. I think that's how being watched in your sentence is passive-voice.


It is considered passive tense, because "a girl" was doing the watching, but she is no longer the subject of the sentence in the passive construction. Instead "a lady" becomes the subject, and she is "being watched". To make it active, you would rewrite it as "A girl spent four days watching a lady."

Choosing between the two is mostly a matter of style, and depends on what you are trying to communicate. If you are trying to center the sentence on the experience of the "lady" and her feelings about "being watched", then you might use the passive construction. However, if you want the reader to focus more on the person doing the watching ("a girl"), the active construction is better.


Actually, the sentence itself is not in the passive voice—it's in the active voice.

A lady spent . . .

The sentence has a single clause, so it doesn't matter what happens in the rest of the sentence. The sentence's main subject is "a lady" and the active verb is to spend.

However, the second part of the sentence can be thought of as "relatively" passive because it only talks about what is happening to her rather than what she is happening by her. (Grammatically, however, it's still a single-clause sentence in the active voice. It's spent, not being watched, that determines this.)

For the sentence, as a whole, to really be passive:

A lady was watched for four days by a girl.

Or, for the active-voice sentence to "sound" more active:

A lady spent four days knowing she was being watched by a girl.

This is essentially the same as two variations of a different sentence. Both are active (grammatically) because of she spent, but the first has a more "relatively" passive feel to it:

"She spent her vacation as a test subject."
"She spent her vacation conducting tests."

But consider this:

I answered all of the questions correctly and all of the questions were answered correctly by me.

The first clause of the sentence is in the active voice but the second clause is in the passive voice. The sentence, as a whole, is actually in both the active voice and the passive voice.

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