I know that passives can not be formed if we don't have direct object. Except that do we have any other situation in which we cant convert active into passive OR Passive into active.

From Active to Passive

I wash my car.

Active: I wash my car.(It means that I wash my car on my own everyday. I like music...kind of habit/something which I do everyday.)

Passive: My car is washed by me. (Now when I read this sentence what my understanding is That the car is in clean state which is done by me.)

In case, if my understanding is correct then by changing voice i also changed the meaning of the sentence.In my understanding, the meaning should not change. Generally, in passive voice the focus changes from doer of the action to object on which the action is done. But the meaning remains the same.

Please let me know how it works? Can we form passive keeping the same meaning for this sentence?

From Passive to active

For simple Past:

"The door was locked." There can be two interpretation:

1) It was a state. (Past participle) 2) It was done by somebody. (passive)

We decide from the context in those cases. If from context I decide that It was done by somebody. I will change the sentence into active voice which will be "He locked the door". Of course if it is past participle. I cant do it because it is not passive voice.

The door is locked. there must be two interpretation:

The door is locked. (Past participle) The door is locked by him. (Passive)

The issue is I cant form Active tense even if i know it is passive voice. Because if I do then the sentence will be " He locks the door." which means he locks the door everyday which is not the meaning it should be conveying.

Please let me know how these things work.

  • 1
    "The door was locked" → "Someone locked the door". That's an indeterminate subject; and the sentence is still ambiguous as to whether the door remains in a locked state.
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 9, 2015 at 13:32
  • 1
    This construction (the window was broken) is famously indeterminate between the stative ('broken', 'locked' etc participial adjective) and the punctive passive ('broken' etc past participle). Context normally disambiguates, or the whole should be rephrased. // 'I wash my car' can be non-habitual (though it rarely is). Apr 9, 2015 at 13:36
  • So is it possible to express the same idea "I wash my car (habitual action)" to Passive Voice or not. If possible, the please let me know how?...........The door is locked by my brother. Can I convert it into Active voice.
    – Jov
    Apr 9, 2015 at 14:22
  • I think you're using the term "past participle" in an unusual way. The form that occurs in the passive construction is called a "past participle" (even though there is no past reference of the form), but you seem to use "past participle" where others would speak of an adjectival sense.
    – Greg Lee
    Apr 9, 2015 at 14:22
  • 'I wash my car' in the usual habitual sense would sound far less idiomatic if passivised as 'My car is/gets washed by me'. There's nothing wrong with the grammar involved; indeed 'John's car is washed by a couple of teenagers from down the road' is and sounds fine. But there's little to choose between 'The door is locked in the evening by my brother' and 'My brother locks the door in the evening'. Apr 9, 2015 at 14:38

2 Answers 2


The idea of "converting" an active to a passive and vice versa is something of a misnomer. You can create pairs of active/passive sentences that are approximately equal in meaning, but probably never exactly equivalent.

One reason for this has to do with information theory, in other words, the types of things/information that we tend to "encode" in particular syntactic positions in a sentence. In the sentence "I gave Dave the book", I am focussing slightly on my action of giving compared to "Dave was given the book", where I focus slightly on the impact of David receiving the book. This means that it is odd to "convert" e.g. "The bus left the station" into "The station was left by the bus", because we don't conceptualise the movement of a bus from a station as having an "impact" on the station. (Other cases where the passive would be odd include e.g. "A headache was given to Jane", "The prime minister was become by David Cameron", "10 is equalled by 5+5"...)

Another reason has to do with scope effects. If I say "Chocolate is eaten by children", this tends to imply that (a) children are the only/principal entities to eat chocolate and (b) children may eat a range of other things. But if I say "Children eat chocolate", this tends to imply that (a) children primarily eat chocolate over other food, and (b) does not imply that children are the only/main entities to eat chocolate.

  • Yes, it's good to dispel the idea that active/passive constructions are simply interchangeable. This is always the danger when looking at decontextualised examples of such pairs. The very reason to use the passive is often because the agent is obvious, or not known or not important. And other aspects of the information packaging you mention are the principles of given-new and end weight, which can often only be realised through use of the passive.
    – Shoe
    Apr 9, 2015 at 18:15

"The door was locked." There can be two interpretation:

1) It was a state. (Past participle) 2) It was done by somebody. (passive)

The 2nd is not generally true. One writes in such situations, if they know what they are doing:

The door had been locked by someone. [for previous action

The door was being locked by someone. [for current action

The door was locked everyday by someone. [for regualar action

Thus, what you do is forcing meaning in poorly written sentences.

Get and read some fiction, not just grammar.

  • The sentence is mentioned on the same website where several people agreed that it can have two interpretations. english.stackexchange.com/questions/227706/…
    – Jov
    Apr 9, 2015 at 14:09
  • The 2nd interpretation is there because the sentence is not properly written for the second meaning. Stay with such writing, and people will continuously wonder what you're meaning. See Edwin Ashworth on rephrasing. You haven't discovered America: clipped sentences are garbage in terms of ambiguity. Apr 9, 2015 at 14:30

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