In English, I have seen some sites explaining active vs passive voice distinction as property of the verb. And, other sites as a property of sentence as a whole. I am learning German, and in that it seems so the way the sentence is constructed itself depends in voice, eg:

e. The dative object moves into the beginning of the passive sentence and is followed by the relevant form of werden.

Intermediate German, A grammar and workbook,pg-24 (Anna Miell Heiner)

So, would be more correct to say voice is a property of a sentence or is it the property of a verb?

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    Are you talking about how it's analyzed theoretically by syntacticians, or how it's explained to people learning the language?
    – Draconis
    Aug 9, 2022 at 4:18
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    Ideally the first I guess because the second one is the explanations I've found and I am starting to lose my mind due to it @Draconis Aug 9, 2022 at 4:21
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    Not all the languages have the category of voice, the languages lacking voice distinction express this meaning in ways other than voice. And in some of those languages that do have voice, there are deponent verbs which are passive by form but active by meaning. And in many languages verbs have synthetic forms so that a sentence can consist of only one word, e.g. Latin “Amo.“ – ‘I love.’ (act. v.), “Amor” – ‘I am loved.’ (pass. v.) — the same sentence structure in both voices, just a verb and nothing else. So which languages are you asking about? All of them? Only analytical? Or German only?
    – Yellow Sky
    Aug 9, 2022 at 8:15
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    The question is with an interest in Germanic language and particularly an interest of German. But, I guess general answers would be appreciated too @YellowSky Aug 9, 2022 at 8:18

1 Answer 1


Of the classical linguistic categories, English does not have paradigmatic representations of Voice, Mood, or Aspect for verbs, nor Case or Gender for nouns. It has two paradigmatic tenses, present and past, and many types of tense-related constructions. But that's it.

So don't worry about English Voice. There isn't any, just like there isn't an English Perfect Tense or an Inceptive Aspect or a Benedictive Mood. In English the Passive is a Construction, not a mood or a voice or a tense, and it defines a "passive clause" as one containing a Passive Construction.

Similar remarks can be made about the Progressive Construction and the Perfect Construction. They all require specific auxiliary verbs, they all require specific verb forms after the auxiliary verbs, they each occur in a specific order in the verb phrase, and the Passive -- only -- changes the noun phrase arguments, promoting the old object to subject, and demoting the old agent subject to an optional by-phrase.

German is much the same as English in this regard, but has fewer irregularities (this is made up for by noun genders and noun plurals). Werden is used -- "become" instead of just "be" -- but it's otherwise the same. Though, once again, German morphology comes in handy; the ge- prefix marks participles unmistakeably, and the -t/-en suffix distinguishes regular from irregular verbs. That's Germanic.

But there are other language families. The Austronesian family is famous for having its own ways of handling passive; Malagasy has four different types of what can be called "Passive" constructions. Indonesian has several, and so does Acehnese. And even in English, there are constructions that are similar to Passive, like Her book is selling well, which is an example of the Middle Alternation, a different thing in English.

All of this doesn't go back far enough, though, since as Geoff Pullum points out, far too many people think that "passive" is an emotional term, not a grammatical one. Consequently, like Strunk and White, they can't tell a passive from a hole in the ground.

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    “That’s Germanic” isn’t quite accurate, considering that all North Germanic languages do have a morphological mediopassive in -s(t); e.g., Icelandic/Danish/Swedish (3s) present active gerir / gør / gör ‘to do’ vs passive gerist / gøres / görs ‘is done’. Aug 10, 2022 at 7:42

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