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I find the standard examples of active and passive voice on, say, Purdue Owl to be pretty obvious. For example, "He kicked the ball" versus "The ball was kicked by him."

For the examples, Someone was talking about whether these different sentences were passive or active voice during a story critique. But when you have "Her hair was dark" vs "She had dark hair." It doesn't seem that either of these would be passive voice. "Her hair was dark" is passive voice? because in passive voice the subject should be receiving the action of the sentence, but that doesn't look to be the case here—her hair is simply dark and only an auxiliary verb is present.

Also, someone was saying "she looked young" is passive, but "she was young" is not passive. But this makes no sense to me. Are they perhaps meaning one is less precise, and they weren't talking about passive/active voice at all when they were saying it was passive? Because all I'm seeing that's different about these two phrases is a narrator that is either uncertain or certain about the subject's age.

marked as duplicate by Mari-Lou A, Edwin Ashworth, user310650, jimm101, curiousdannii Dec 12 '17 at 13:05

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    Sentences without an action verb can't be passive: "She had dark hair". That's a subject/be/noun phrase. The verb to be and the verbs to do with appearance/seeming: to look, sound, appear, seem, etc. are not action verbs. Ergo, the category passive does not apply to them. Those verbs do not an express an action. – Lambie Dec 9 '17 at 19:43
  • @Lambie Did you really just call have a “be” verb? Whatever happened to a good time was had by all? – tchrist Dec 9 '17 at 20:23
  • @tchrist No, I did not. I said sentences without an action verb can't be passive. You wouldn't, under normal circumstances, write or say: "Dark hair was had by her", now would you?? Then, I went on to mention the "be" verbs. – Lambie Dec 9 '17 at 20:34
  • @Lambie You said, and I quote: ”She had dark hair". That's a subject/be/noun phrase — Very well then, If that's truly a subject/be/noun phrase as you've said it is, then prithee which do you imagine to be the be part of said phrase? You have four choices, and one guess: choose wisely. – tchrist Dec 9 '17 at 20:37
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    "Weak-verb expression," I should perhaps acknowledge, is not a grammatical notion. It reflects a simplistic categorization of verbs, according to which converting simple, solid verbs such as be and have to fancier ones such as constitute and possess transforms plodding, soporific text or speech into something stirring, majestic, or enthralling. As an oversimplification of what makes good writing good, this treatment borders on delusional—but it persists in many a classroom in which the educator attributes demigodlike powers to active or lively or strong verbs. – Sven Yargs Dec 9 '17 at 21:21

You’re exactly right that the sentence she looked young is no more passive than she was young. Sounds like somebody doesn’t know what a passive even is. This drives linguists mad, because the vulgar usage of their term rubs them the wrong way.

See this brief synopsis on what the passive is — and what it is not. If you want more meat than afforded by that short explanation, then do read Fear and Loathing of the English Passive.

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