Is this sentence in active or passive voice? "The book I tore is in pieces.".

Is the book the subject here or is it 'I'? If the book is the subject, what's 'tore'?

  • That has been omitted (and implied) here; i.e. the entire sentence is "The book that I tore is in pieces". It's common to omit it. See the answers to Are there rules about using “that” to join two clauses?. – niamulbengali Jan 22 at 11:24
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    This is a stupid question. There are two clauses in the sentence. Any clause can be passive, if it meets the criteria. Asking how to categorize the sentence (instead of a clause), and providing a complex sentence in the first place (instead of a simple sentence) confuses the student and shows that the teacher didn't understand the grammar. Burn the book and fire the author. – John Lawler Jan 22 at 16:50
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    And just to be clear: the student OP did not ask a stupid question. Rather, our editorial ire is directed toward the writer of the grammar book. – rajah9 Jan 22 at 20:22

The book I tore ___ is in pieces.

This is a bare relative construction, where there is no subordinator "that" nor the relative phrase "which" in prenuclear position.

The subject of the sentence is the noun phrase "the book I tore", which contains the relative clause "I tore" modifying "book". The remainder of the sentence is the predicate.

The gap notation '___' is object of "tore", and since there is no relative phrase ("which") gap is related directly to the nominal “book” rather than indirectly, via the pronoun "which".

In other words, the object of "tore" is 'gap', which is related directly to its antecedent "book" from which it derives its interpretation.


Your example is a copula "linking verb" sentence. (Warning: Grammar terms vary.)

Linking verb sentences are neither active nor passive; the concept of voice does not apply here.

I tore is a "zero" relative (adjective) clause modifying the book:

the book [that] I tore (subject) = in pieces (subject complement)

(By the way, you can make the relative clause passive: The book that was torn is in pieces. Note that you'll need to keep the relative pronoun that in this one.)


What makes this question a bit tricky is the presence of tore in the sentence, which more often than not suggests action.

But tore here is part of the relative clause [which] I tore, where the relative pronoun which has been elided (whiz deletion.)

The verb of the sentence— which could dictate the active-passive change— is the linking verb is sitting there silent and coy.

And linking verbs aren't amenable to active-passive changes.

Lastly, the subject of the sentence is the NP The book I tore.


Said another way, though BillJ's explanation is exhaustive -- the sentence is in active voice because of the verb is acting alone. The book that I tore (subject) is (predicate).

Active voice sentence example: I throw the ball.

Passive voice sentence example: The ball is being thrown.

Note that is appears here, but not alone. It modifies being thrown. One of the giveaways of passive voice is that the subject is an inanimate object and the person(s) acting upon it are omitted.

Use passive verbs when you do not want to specify the actor. If the actor is either unknown or irrelevant, you may not want to specify an actor: “Crimes were committed.” In this case, the actor’s name is purposely avoided.

  • "One of the giveaways of passive voice is that the subject is an inanimate object." I disagree. She was being bullied in highschool, and she is very animate. – fev Jan 22 at 15:14

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