Something like "The baby was born." or "The house was built." There's no person in the sentence actually doing the action. What do you call this type of sentence?

  • What makes you think such sentences should have a special name? To my knowledge there ain't no such nomenclature.
    – user126190
    Dec 11, 2021 at 15:58
  • Are you just talking about a copular sentence?
    – tchrist
    Dec 11, 2021 at 16:13
  • The second is indisputably a sentence in the passive voice, with no agent specified (contrast 'The house was built by Jack'). // Some regard the verb 'be born' as English's semi-deponent verb. Dec 11, 2021 at 17:07
  • Related: The ambiguous "he is buried"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 11, 2021 at 21:40

2 Answers 2


[1] The baby was born.

[2] The house was built.

These are both called short passives, the type of passive where a by phrase can usually be optionally omitted, cf. The house was built in 1960 (by a reputable local builder).

In your first example with "born", no by phrase would be possible, cf. *"The baby was born by a Greek peasant".

  • The baby was borne by a Greek peasant. to bear or carry a baby. In the sense of being born, it cannot be passive.
    – Lambie
    Dec 11, 2021 at 19:28
  • 1
    In BrE the past participle of "bear" is spelled "born" only in the passive, in the childbirth sense ("He was born in 1900" / "He was born rich"). Elsewhere it is "borne" ("It has borne fruit"). The OP used the verb "born", not "borne", thus indicating the former meaning was intended. Since the addition of a by phase is infelicitous here, the OP's example can only be a 'short passive'.
    – BillJ
    Dec 11, 2021 at 19:49
  • A tree can bear fruit and a woman can bear a baby. In the past tense, this meaning is borne. "The baby was born on" (meaning come into the world) cannot be a passive because there can't be a agent like this: The baby was born by a mother. The form is some kind of defective.
    – Lambie
    Dec 12, 2021 at 16:21
  • @Lambie I've already explained why there can't be an agent (a by phrase). Read my last comment again, particularly the bit about 'short' passive. "The baby was born on 1 December" is a perfectly valid example of a passive clause.
    – BillJ
    Dec 12, 2021 at 17:05
  • It is not a passive like the others. It is defective as it cannot have an agent. Whereas: The house was built [by x] can. Ergo, they are completely different.
    – Lambie
    Dec 12, 2021 at 17:07

The sentence is written in passive voice.

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