"A car was parked outside of the gate."
"My work volume is increased"
"He was arrested"
"He was informed about this"
“My heart was broken”

All above statements can be in the active voice if we do not mention the agent.

For instance, the last sentence could mean either, "Somebody broke my heart", where "broken" is the past participle of a passive action verb, or, "My heart was in a broken condition", where "broken" is an adjective describing my heart.

If we include the agent, i.e. "by a driver", "by the boss", "by police" and so on, then sentence is clearly identifiable as passive voice.

My question is how to quickly make out whether a sentence is in the passive voice or active?

  • 2
    This answer of mine, ell.stackexchange.com/a/16136/3281, might be helpful. Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 8:53
  • @snailboat I'm not sure what indicative means, but I think OP is asking about the difference between forms like "I was happy" and "I was attacked"? Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 18:05
  • @starsplusplus I think you may be right! I just wanted to point out that the question doesn't make sense as written because (among other things) the indicative mood and passive voice aren't in opposition. If you feel you understand what the OP is asking, perhaps you could revise the question and make it make sense.
    – user230
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 8:44
  • 1
    @snailboat Unfortunately it's not at all clear to me what the OP is asking - I would have VTC as unclear but can't whilst it has a bounty on it. Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 9:47
  • 2
    @snailboat Moreover I'm not sure how to edit and still have the answers be consistent, because to be honest I can't tell what question they're actually answering. Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 9:48

4 Answers 4


You said "if we use the agent, the sentence becomes passive voice". I have to disagree. In every one of your examples, the subject of the verb is the patient of the action. Regardless of whether the agent is mentioned, those statements employ the passive voice.

You're asking how to distinguish something that doesn't need to be distinguished. The question of passive vs. active voice is completely different than the question of stative vs. dynamic verbs -- in the same way that the question of how curly your hair is happens to be completely different than the question of how dark your hair is.

In an active voice construction, the subject causes the action. In a passive voice construction, the subject receives the action. It's easy to see that all of your sentences are passive voice constructions because its easy to find the active voice equivalents:

Someone parked the car. 
Something increased your work volume. 
Someone arrested him.

and so on.

Although the stative vs. dynamic distinction exists in English semantics, it isn't present in English grammar. One rule of thumb is that stative verbs do not work well when employing the continuous aspect. For example, "I am knowing the answer" is a poorly-formed sentence because the verb to know is stative. It seems that every one of your passive voice examples uses a dynamic verb.

One car was being parked outside the gate when I left.
Your work volume is being increased during the holidays.
He was being arrested while I calmly walked away.

and so on.

A stative verb can be used in either the active or the passive voice:

My manager knows me to be an excellent employee.
I am known to be an excellent employee.

A dynamic verb can be used in either the active or the passive voice:

I parked the car outside the gate.
The car was parked outside the gate.

So, how do you distinguish between passive and stative? You don't. You distinguish between active and passive. You distinguish between dynamic and stative. You do those two things separately. They are not related to each other.


Now, as to your follow-up question, let's use the dynamic verb to park in the passive voice and indicative mode:

The car was parked -- past tense, indefinite aspect
The car is parked -- present tense, indefinite aspect
The car will be parked -- future tense, indefinite aspect

The car had been parked -- past tense, perfect aspect
The car has been parked -- present tense, perfect aspect
The car will have been parked -- future tense, perfect aspect

Does the meaning change? Yes. Aspect carries a different kind of meaning than tense, but both aspect and tense carry meaning. Tense has to do with location in time. Aspect has to do with a relationship with time. Often tense and aspect are taught as a single, combined thing, but I find them easier to understand when they are examined as separate properties.

Changing the aspect does not change the tense. Changing the aspect does not change the voice. Changing the aspect does not change the nature of the verb, whether stative or dynamic.

Because the perfect aspect has an explicit relationship with time, it makes the most sense when the time frame is also made explicit, as in "The car has been parked there for several weeks" or "The car had been parked there for a month before anyone noticed it."


Whether a verb is stative or dynamic has very little impact on English grammar. Certain verb forms don't make sense for stative verbs, and that's about it. The properties of voice, tense, aspect and mode have a great deal of impact. Changing any one of those requires changing something about the verb's form.

Let me see if I can clearly summarize all of that.

  • Which of the example sentences are passive voice? All of them.
  • Which of them are indicative sentences? All of them.
  • Which can be interpreted as having a participial subject complement? All of them.
  • Which are stative? None of them.

Most of those are unrelated items. One pair is an identity. The passive voice construction is a subset of the participial subject complement construction.

  • I don't quite agree. Although the examples given by the OP weren't the best to illustrate the problem, what they seem to be aiming at is that we have adjectives in English which have past participle forms. Therefore it is not straightforwardly easy in all cases to tell whether a sentence is an active sentence with an adjective as a predicative complement, or a passive sentence. In particular, I wonder how you make out that broken in the OP's example is not an adjective but a verb. It seems more likely that it is an adjective. It is the same broken we find in: I had a broken heart ... Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 9:46
  • My heart was broken. Someone or something broke my heart. Every passive voice clause can be recast as an active voice clause. Every passive voice clause can also be interpreted as a copular clause where the subject complement is a predicate adjectival participial phrase. There's still no distinction. Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 14:38
  • Yes, but it doesn't affect the fact that if broken is an adjective in the OP's example, it is not a passive sentence. If is just a sentence like my heart was red or my heart was 10cm long it's not a pssive sentence, even if the adjective contains some kind of passive aspect to it. Nobody has to break anything fot it to be broken. My watch may be broken, but it doesn't mean that anything or anybody broke it - it just doesn't work that's all ... Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 15:13
  • It's not a passive sentence? Ok, your active sentence is "She broke my heart." What is the passive voice equivalent? Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 23:25
  • That's the point of the OP's question, the point of my comment. You do not known whether it's a passivisation or not - you don't know if it's a verb or an adjective. Both are possible. Now, if I'm making that point, it's clear that I think it could be a passivisation. Your problem however, is that your post says that it definitely is a passivisation. You don't recognise user4084's perfectly valid point. I don't need to show it's not a passivisation, you need to show that it isn't a straightforward sentence with broken as an adjective - otherwise your very good post is no good! ... Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 23:49

English "got" was long considered substandard, even though it disambiguates these situations efficiently.

The car got parked. The car was parked.

Without such disambiguation, context is required.


The above sentences are still in passive form, just with an unstated agent.
"by agent" is not added when the context of the sentence serves for the active object or simply when the object mention is not necessary. It is required only when we need to introduce a passive object.

a) For quickly making out between active voice and passive voice sentences, you can go through the structures of passive voice sentences here.

b) If you use had been in the above sentences, it just changes the tense of the sentences to participle, which is generally not advisable.


once passive voice form is used for a case that we eventually don't wanna talk about the agent or it's not important to talk about or the agent is unknown...

when we rewrite active sentence into passive voice for the agent is usually can be specified by using " By+ agent " ..somehow using agent is not so important but using it don't change the form of the sentence from passive to active...

using " had been " for all above sentence i guess the meaning is other way around... but for all passive voice u could use (" get in place of verb to be ") for American English specially as : He was arrested = He got arrested.(positive- past) He is arrested = He gets arrested.(positive - present) He didn't get arrested. (Negative-past) He doesn't get arrested (negative-present)

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