And as he ate it, she looked at him steadily.

In this sort of grammatical constructions, "she" works as a subject of the sentence with active voice.

Now, consider a sentence which I read in The Hindu:

And as the nation heard and saw him, a sense of India's greatness stirred within it.

Now, in this sentence "a sense" is working as noun but the part "within it" is making this sentence passive unless there were "was" before "stirred". So, is this sentence correct?

  • What do you mean by "is this sentence correct"? In what sense? – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jan 2 '19 at 7:52
  • I don’t understand the question. There is nothing passive in either of your example sentences; they are both active. I also don’t understand exactly what ‘it’ refers to at the end – the nation? The sense of greatness? The fact of seeing and hearing him? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 2 '19 at 9:00

Prepositional phrases such as within it have no bearing on the categorization of a clause as active or passive.

The passive is made up of the auxiliary to be and the past participle of a transitive verb. The direct object of the transitive verb becomes the subject of the passive construction.

For example:

Active: She stirred the tea with a big wooden spoon.

Passive: The tea was stirred with a big wooden spoon.

Intransitive verbs such as go, rain, happen are not followed by a direct object, and generally cannot be passivized. (But see below.)

Many verbs, however, are ambitransitive (transitive in some contexts and intransitive in others). One such verb is stir. In the tea example above, it is a transitive verb. It has a direct object and can thus be used in a passive construction.

But stir can also be used intransitively, i.e., without a direct object. Here are a few Google examples of intransitive stir:

  • Her baby stirred with her.
  • Something stirred within me.
  • The Hulk was an ordinary person until something stirred within him.
  • Nothing stirred within his soul but a cold and cruel and loveless lust.

The clause in The Hindu sentence ('a sense of India's greatness stirred within it') uses the intransitive stir and is therefore grammatical.

Intransitive verbs in passive constructions

In general terms, intransitive verbs cannot be passivized. For example:

Active: An accident happened yesterday.

Passive: * (e.g.) Yesterday was an accident happened.

But some constructions containing intransitive verbs and prepositional phrases can be passivized - with varying degrees of grammaticality.

Active: She went to the bank.

Passive: ?The bank was gone to (by her).

Active: Nobody had slept in the bed.

Passive: The bed had not been slept in.

Thanks to Janus Bahs Jacquet, who prompted this addendum.

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  • There are many cases where a verb taking a prepositional phrase as a pseudo-object/complement can be passivised just fine, the object of the preposition being raised to subject status. “The bank was gone to” is questionable, but I wouldn’t call it ungrammatical – I’m sure a context could be found where it would make sense. “The bed had not been slept in” is entirely parallel and definitely grammatical. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 2 '19 at 9:03
  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet. My initial point was that the presence of a prepositional phrase does not in itself determine the designation of a construction as active or passive. Grammaticality is not a binary, so it is not surprising that you and I draw the line in different places on the bank example. But I have changed the * to a ? and rewritten elsewhere reflect this. – Shoe Jan 2 '19 at 10:33
  • @Shoe I post this sort of questions on this site. But every time I'm going to post I'm always deterred by the line which reads "Your questions have not been accepted as good" so I want to ask what is wrong with this type of questions? – user329643 Jan 2 '19 at 11:59
  • @Vishal Ghulati. A question may be considered not 'good' for a variety of reasons: unclear what you are asking, lacking evidence of research, duplicate of an existing question, request for proof-reading, too broad, belongs on a different site, etc. Some users here apply these criteria much more strictly than others - the lack of consistency results in uncertainty about the acceptability of a question. As to your question above, I think it is fine - although some users may feel it belongs on the English Language Learning sister site. – Shoe Jan 2 '19 at 12:55