I was answering a question on ELL and I came across a question of my own, namely whether there are objects in passive sentences. In this case the sentence was,

Bobby was ran [sic] over by Billy's car.

Is car the object in that sentence like I thought? Or if there is an object, is it something else?

  • 2
    (Side note: it should be "was run over".) I wouldn't say it is the object of the verb. Pronouns do take objective case in this position; sometimes noun phrases that come after prepositions like this are referred to as the object of the preposition. But I would say the sentence as a whole does not have an object. – herisson Dec 3 '15 at 20:06
  • Ok I'll keep that in mind – Sam Harrington Dec 3 '15 at 20:10
  • The sentence part "by Bill's car" is called passive agent. – rogermue Dec 4 '15 at 6:43

The direct object of an active verb is the noun or noun phrase that receives the action of the verb. So in

Billy's car ran over Bobby

Bobby is the unfortunate recipient of the verb, so "Bobby" is a direct object.

When the sentence is transposed to the passive, i.e., with a verb composed of a form of "to be" and a past participle:

Bobby was run over by Billy's car

by definition, the subject receives the action of the verb, so there's no place for a direct object. That's why sentences in the passive don't have them.

Note that there are objects of things other than verbs. For example, prepositions. In a passive sentence, the actor (formerly the subject in the active sentence) may be relegated to the object of the preposition by.


Billy's car after the preposition by is called the agent in the passive. The agent is the person or thing that performs the action and is the subject of the active sentence.

It might look like an object as it is a complement (object) of the preposition.

Bobby is called the patient of the main verb and is a direct object of the verb in the active voice version of the sentence below.

Billy's car (subject) ran over Bobby (object)


Bobby (patient) was run over by Billy's car (agent).

This Wikipedia link explains about the passive voice in detail.

  • Good link. Headspinning topic! – GreenAsJade Dec 4 '15 at 5:31

Maybe if the passive is formed from an indirect object, we can keep the direct object?

He gave me a new car.

I was given a new car by him.

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