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If I say "I am annoyed", is that in the passive voice?

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5 Answers 5

It depends on contextannoyed can function in two different ways, either as a participle or as an adjective. (Or, arguably, there’s a spectrum between those two, along which it can vary a fair bit.)

If you mean Something annoys me, then yes — annoyed is functioning as a participle, and it’s the passive voice. This is parallel to a case like Help! I am attacked! A clear diagnostic test showing that it could be passive is that you can add by to incorporate an agent: I am annoyed by the self-reference in this sentence.

If you mean The way I feel is: annoyed, then no — it’s not the passive voice. Like many participles, annoyed has made the transition to sometimes acting as an adjective. The standard diagnostic test for this is that you can talk about, for instance, a very annoyed pedant. (By contrast, you can’t talk about *a very attacked castle.)

Some participles have gone further, and changed almost entirely into adjectives. If I say My computer was broken, I’m probably describing a state my computer was in, not the act of something breaking it. In extreme cases, the original verb has been lost entirely: you can be renowned, but you can’t *renown anything any more. So Lynne Truss is renowned for… is not the passive voice.

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Since there are currently two answers, one "yes" and one "no", and both are correct, I'll try to add some explanation :)

The passive is formed using the verb "to be" plus a past participle; "to annoy" is a verb, so the sentence

I am annoyed.

is of the right form to be a passive, and as kiamlaluno notes may be extended with "by" to show the agent who is causing the annoyance.

However, most speakers would consider that this sentence is instead of the same form as

I am angry.

or, in other words, that "annoyed" is being used as an adjective rather than a participle. To illustrate the difference consider the sentences:

  • I am very angry.
  • I am very annoyed.
  • *I am very seen.
  • *I am very hit.

There is no doubt that one can be "seen" or "hit" to a great extent, and yet adding "very" does not work with those, which function only as participles and not as modifiable adjectives.

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Ha — we seem to have had the same response to the first two answers, almost exactly in parallel… –  PLL Feb 12 '11 at 18:35
@PLL: Great minds think alike, or so they say :-) –  psmears Feb 12 '11 at 18:43


I am annoyed.

uses the passive voice.

To use the active voice, you have to have an agent for the annoyance.

My little brother annoyed me.

uses active voice.

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Short answer: if you can replace "am" by "get" or add the word "generally" to the sentence, then it's probably a passive; if you can replace it with "seem", then it's probably not.

The longer answer is that the passive isn't just any case of be followed by a past participle: it also has certain constraints:

  • passives often allow 'be' to be replaced by 'get' in informal usage without changing the aspect (generality vs stative observation);
  • passives tend to be more compatible with cases denoting an "action" where the objcet (and subject in the passive) is the "recipient of an action" (so e.g. you wouldn't tend to passivise "A bridge ran across the river" as "The river was run across by a bridge" because the interpretation of "ran over" in this case is incompatible with the reading of an "action" having occurred on the subject; simiarly, "Four is equalled by two plus two" sounds odd).

In principle, the form "I am annoyed" can have a passive and a non-passive reading. The passive reading would imply a general action ("am" in the simple present can be stative, but as in the river example, passives tend not to have stative interpretations, so only the general interpretation of the simple present is left). And as a passive, 'get' can be subtituted:

I am/get (generally) annoyed (by loud talkers).

On the other hand, if the sentence isn't a "true" passive, then it can have a stative interpretation (or put another way, mean "I am annoyed now" rather than stating a generality). In this case, replacing 'am' with 'get' would change the interpretation, but verbs like 'seem', 'appear' would not change the sentence from a present observation to a generality:

I am/seem/appear annoyed.

(Notice how changing to "I get annoyed" changes it to a generality.)

On a related note, notice how with verbs denoting an obvious action, to get a present passive interpretation (rather than being interpreted as a generality), the continuous form is used, so that the following sentence is not a contradiction:

This wine is drunk at room temperature, but we're drinking it chilled.

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It is the passive voice in I am annoyed by you, where the active voice is you annoy me.

I am annoyed is not the passive voice, as annoyed is an adjective.

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Well, I am annoyed is actually passive, whether by you is present or not. Except you consider annoyed as an adjective. –  Jimi Oke Feb 12 '11 at 19:41
@Jimi Oke: That is what I meant, but I didn't explicitly write it. –  kiamlaluno Feb 12 '11 at 19:47
Thanks for the clarification :) –  Jimi Oke Feb 12 '11 at 19:49

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