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In grammar, the voice (also called diathesis) of a verb describes the relationship between the action (or state) that the verb expresses and the participants identified by its arguments (subject, object, etc.). When the subject is the agent or doer of the action, the verb is in the active voice. When the subject is the patient, target or undergoer of the action, the verb is said to be in the passive voice.

For example, in the sentence:

The cat ate the mouse.

The verb "ate" is in the active voice, but in the sentence:

The mouse was eaten by the cat.

The verbal phrase "was eaten" is passive.


The hunter killed the bear.

The verb "killed" is in the active voice, and the doer of the action is the "hunter". To make this passive:

The bear was killed by the hunter.

The verbal phrase "was killed" is followed by the word "by" and then by the doer "hunter".

In a transformation from an active-voice clause to an equivalent passive-voice construction, the subject and the direct object switch grammatical roles. The direct object gets promoted to subject, and the subject demoted to an (optional) complement. In the examples above, the mouse serves as the direct object in the active-voice version, but becomes the subject in the passive version. The subject of the active-voice version, the cat, becomes part of a prepositional phrase in the passive version of the sentence, and could be left out entirely.

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