Do they possess passive voice in any of these sentences? Do they sound passive? I don't know what native English speakers feel when using these two phrasal verbs, but I think they express passive voice more or less.

"It's a true story, based on actual events." "His novel is based on historical occurrences but it blurs the line between fact and fiction." "I'm a slob compared to my roommate." "You suddenly start to feel how small you are, compared to this great big world we live in."

  • I don't think voice has anything to do with these two. Jan 7 '20 at 11:27

I see your point as 'compared' and 'based' are perfect passive participles.

Nevertheless, if at all, we only become aware of the passivity if we speak about actions - best if they're ongoing. As soon as the action is done and we only have a result of it the sense of passivity vanishes.

The meal is being prepared by the cook. (pretty strong awareness)
The prepared meal is delicious. (who cares that the meal had a passive role in the cooking action?)

The awareness is even weaker in fixed expressions like 'based on' or 'compared to'. Nobody translates them to '... was based on' resp. 'when ... is/gets compared to' which would recall the action and the passive role. They rather translate them to 'having a base in / standing on' resp. 'in comparison to'. No passivity.

Conclusion: The passivity comes to mind only if we examine the grammatical roots of such expressions. Nobody does it when simply speaking.

  • Thank you, I didn't notice your answer until now. Your viewpoint is very clear and I really appreciate it.
    – Sam
    Jan 16 '20 at 7:33

All of your examples contain the so-called past participle. One of your examples includes a clear passive-voice present-tense construction in the first clause:

His novel is based on historical occurrences but it blurs the line between fact and fiction.

An active-voice counterpart is easy to construct:

the author based his novel on historical occurrences


The other three participles occur in tenseless constructions:

It's a true story, based on actual events.
I'm a slob compared to my roommate.
You suddenly start to feel how small you are, compared to this great big world we live in.

These participles still imply something like the passive voice. Someone, likely the author, based the story on those events. Someone is assumed to compare me to my roommate. Someone has judged the size of this great big world, and that someone probably includes you.

Yes. Even as modifiers, these participles are still verb forms. If the underlying verb allows agent and patient semantic roles, then so does the participle form. They generally modify a referent that something else has changed.


In the same way, there is something very much like active voice in the present participle. These -ing verb forms generally modify a referent that is taking action.

Comparing myself to my roommate, I've discovered that I'm the worse slob.

I made the comparison. I made the discovery. I'm the only one taking obvious action -- even if it's obvious that none of my actions include cleaning.

I'm a slob compared to my roommate.

Here, it could be anyone (even you) who makes the comparison, judges us both, and determines that I'm a mess.

  • Thank you for all your analysis and effort. I think we can also consider the three tenseless constructions to be part of participle clauses, don't you think? And another thing, may I ask you if you feel any passivity in those three when reading or reading them out?
    – Sam
    Jan 8 '20 at 14:22
  • I found another usage of past participle that may also imply the passive voice, that is, "given that". What's your thought on this one?
    – Sam
    Jan 18 '20 at 22:46

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