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From my understanding the difference between Passive voice and Active voice is based on action. For example, "Steve loves Amy" - active. "Amy is loved by Steve." - passive.

Now what if there is no action in my sentence? How do I know whether it's active voice or passive voice? Here are a few examples.

  1. There is a dog lying on the floor. - Here "lying" is not an action but state.
  2. The moon is visible through the window. - No action here.
  3. There are several display panels around the control deck. - No action. This is just a statement which describes a scene.
  4. John and David are sitting on the floor.
  5. There are a few other kinds of flowers in the garden.

Basically all these sentences are trying to describe a scene or picture. No action is performed by anybody here. I'm not sure whether these are active or passive voice, and if so, how? Are these sentence neither active nor passive voice?

  • Some corrections: 2) The moon is visible through the window. 5) There are a few other kinds of flowers in the garden. – WendiKidd May 29 '13 at 13:41
  • 4. The floor is being sat upon by John and David – mcalex May 29 '13 at 14:44
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The difference between active and passive is not whether there is an 'action' but the syntactic role of the person or thing 'acted upon'.

In a sentence cast in the active voice, the subject is the Agent - the 'doer' - and the direct object is the Patient - the one 'acted upon' or 'done to'.

Agent loves Patient.

When that sentence is recast in the passive voice, the Patient becomes the subject and the Agent disappears, or is relegated to a prepositional phrase.

Patient is loved [by Agent].

So intransitive verbs - verbs which do not take a direct object - cannot be cast in the passive voice, because there's no Patient to become the subject of a passive sentence.

Agent dies. ... there's no Patient who can 'be died by'!

BE is an intransitive verb: it has no Patient, only an Agent to whom some quality is imputed, so it cannot be cast in the passive voice. It is always active.


marks an utterance as unacceptable

  • Run can be transitive when talking about management (e.g. "She runs the whole of the sales force.") – Matt Ellen May 29 '13 at 15:03
  • @MattEllen Yes, a lot of verbs swing both ways. I'll substitute die. – StoneyB May 29 '13 at 15:06
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I would rewrite several of those as follows to make them more interesting to the reader and conserve words for conciseness:

  1. A dog is lying on the floor. - Here, the dog does the lazy lying on the floor. That is, grammatically speaking, an action.
  2. I see [or the narrator, whoever it is, name him/her] the moon through the window." - Someone is seeing it...if no one is there, then why not say something more vivid like, "The moon cast a stark shadow against the wall."
  3. The control deck has several display panels. - Change the ownership to the control deck!
  4. John and David are sitting on the floor. - This one is already active. That's what they're doing, even if they're just sitting there.
  5. The garden has a few other kinds of flowers. - Make the garden the "doer of the action" by "having" the flowers.

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