I am a bit confused about these sentences below. The word "encumbered" baffles me. "Encumbered" is usually used in passive sentences. I am not able to understand the agent in these following structures. What confuses me is when the agent is not animate, that is, the object in the passive sentence followed by "by" is not a person. For instance,

1. Mike was killed by Rob. (Passive)

1.1 Rob killed Mike. (Active)

The use of "encumber" in following sentences,

1. Women tennis players are not encumbered by long, heavy skirts and high necked blouses.
2. We were encumbered by equipment and supplies.

Here, the thing that does the action is not animate. What could be the active voice sentence? Are the following constructions correct?

1.1 Long, heavy skirts and high necked blouses encumber women tennis players.

2.2 Equipment and supplies encumbered us.

I am referring to this dictionary.


2 Answers 2


Who told you that the passive construction is only possible with persons as passive agents. Have you never read a sentence like: The house was hit by a bomb.

  • I have read such kind of sentences. I know in your example the passive agent is "bomb". I am trying to figure out the meaning of the above sentences with the word "Encumber". I was listening to 'Pink Floyd's High Hopes" song and there is a line "Encumbered forever by desired ambitions" The meanings of the word is "make someone or something carry or hold something heavy" and "causes difficulties and problems for someone". Of the two meanings, I think second one is applicable here. My question is, what is the passive agent in that sentence and who's encumbered?
    – Harry
    Feb 16, 2014 at 9:05
  • 1
    Probably you have to replace "I am" encumbered by ambitions. The context of the song will tell you who he is talking of. The passive agent is clearly indicated: by ambitions.
    – rogermue
    Feb 16, 2014 at 9:29

Encumbered: prevented from making quick progress by having to carry heavy objects or deal with important duties and responsibilities.

Encumber: to weigh someone or something down, or to make it difficult for someone to do something:

"Today, thankfully, women tennis players are not encumbered with/by long, heavy skirts and high-necked blouses."

The long heavy skirts and high-necked blouses are the actors - it is these that acted to slow (encumber) the female tennis players.

An 'actor' does not need to be animate, it merely needs to have an effect [act] upon the subject, for example:

"My shirt (subject) was made wet by the rain (actor)." [Passive]

"The rain made my shirt wet." [Active]

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