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What is the Middle Voice?

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We have probably all heard the terms “active voice” and “passive voice,” but did you know there is also a middle voice? Grammarians use the term “voice” to refer to the relationship between the event described by a verb and the participants in the event. When a verb is in the active voice, the subject is performing the action described by the verb and the object of the verb is having the action performed on it. So, in a sentence like The press published several excellent new studies on grammar. The subject (“the press”) is doing the publishing, and the direct object (“several new studies of grammar”) is being published. The passive voice, the unfortunate bane of some writing teachers, is found in the sentence: Several excellent new studies on grammar were published by the press. where “new studies” is the subject and is having the action performed on it and the object of the preposition by is performing the action described by the verb. The metaphors “acting upon” and “being acted upon” are evident in the terms active voice and passive voice and extended to the idea of active and passives sentences (ones with active or passive voice verbs). And note that the by phrase can be omitted, leading to what is called the truncated passive where the noun performing the action (“the press”) is implied: Several new studies on grammar were published. Beyond the active and passive, English also has something known as the middle voice, sometimes more fancily called “the mediopassive.” The middle voice occurs when the subject of the sentence is the noun or noun phrase that is acted upon, but there are none of the trappings of the passive, like the auxiliary be-verb and the by-phrase. We find the middle voice in sentences like these: Her novels sell well. Some people photograph easily. Novels are sold, not doing the selling; people are photographed, not operating a camera. But in these middle voice sentences, the focus is on the novels and people, and reference to agency is. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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