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Is the following sentence passive voice? Many of my students will write something similar to the following: "The circuit breaker needs to be replaced in the morning."

Does the phrase "to be replaced" make this sentence passive voice? Thank you.

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Yes, it is passive voice- though it is not the simplest of passive voice sentences. Let's work up to it by looking at a simpler sentence:

I write answers - active voice
answers are written [by me] - passive voice

We convert this sentence to passive voice as follows:

  • move the object to the front
  • change the verb to a past participle write->written
  • add the be verb in the appropriate case (are).

Now start with a more complex sentence, using the auxiliary verb need

I need to replace the circuit breaker in the morning - active voice
The circuit breaker needs to be replaced [by me] in the morning - passive voice

Here the process contains nearly the same steps:

  • move the object to the front
  • change the verb to a past participle replace->replaced
  • the be verb is already there, and it must be kept as an infinitive
  • change the auxiliary verb to the appropriate case.
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"To be replaced" is a passive infinitive. The sentence that you gave as an example is a perfectly grammatical sentence and quite idiomatic. Why do you think it a problem if your students write such a sentence?

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Yes, the passive nature of the sentence can be seen by looking at what will (hopefully) be true in the afternoon: "The circuit breaker was replaced in the morning". That's passive voice. The original is just saying that that needs to happen. The active voice version would be something along the line of "The electrician needs to replace the circuit breaker in the morning".

There's a lot of criticism of passive voice, but in many cases it is the best phrasing. It obscures the subject (who's doing the action), but in this case that's justifiable, as it's not important who replaces the circuit breaker, what's important is that somebody does it.

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I guess it will sound picky to some people, but the subject of that sentence is "circuit breaker", and the verb is "needs". While "to need" doesn't have a very "vigorous" meaning, the verb in the sentence is, grammatically speaking, not in the passive voice. The grammatical verb form of "needs" is the 3rd person singular, present tense, active voice.

An example of a passive voice sentence on the same topic would be:

"A new circuit breaker is needed."

or

"The circuit breaker will be replaced in the morning."

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