Learn English – Present simple Passive – Change in the meaning when translate from active to passive or Vice versa


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.

Best Answer

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.