What is an Agent Noun? Definition, Examples of Grammatical Agents

Agent noun definition: An agent is a grammatical term for a type of noun. An agent noun is a person who performs an action.

What is the Agent?

The agent in English grammar is always a noun. That is because the agent (also called the actor) is the “doer” of an action, which usually makes it the subject.

Agents generally have the endings “-er” or “-or.” These suffixes, when added to a root word, mean someone who does something.


  • Root word: teach
    • Agent: teacher
  • Root word: direct
    • Agent: director

Agents and Recipient Nouns

help with english grammarAgents and recipient nouns are invariably linked because they either perform (agent) or receive (recipient) actions.

As we mentioned above, the agent noun is the person who completes the action, or the person who does something.

For example:

  • Agent: employer
    • Meaning: someone who employs
  • Agent: prosecutor
    • Meaning: someone who prosecutes

english writing tipsThe recipient of the agent noun’s action(s) is called the recipient noun. The recipient noun is the person who receives the action of the agent.

  • Recipient noun: employee
    • Meaning: someone who is employed (by the employer)
  • Recipient noun: honoree
    • Meaning: someone who is honored

Not all recipient nouns have “parent” agent nouns. That is, there is no such thing as an “honorer” even though the word “honoree” exists.

The Agent in the Active Voice

active voice agent nounsIn active voice, the subject always “does” the action of the sentence. Chronologically, the subject will come before the verb in the sentence.

Most writing occurs in active voice.

Examples of Active Voice:

  • Shane plays music.
  • Tony wrote a play.

In each of these sentences, the subject comes before the verb and object. The subject is “doing” the verb in the sentence. This is called the active voice.

If you imagine there is an arrow connecting the subject to the verb, active voice sentences will always have an arrow going to the right.

  • Shane>plays
  • Tony>wrote

In the active voice, the agent is the subject of the sentence. The agent (actor) is the person doing the action of the sentence.

Examples of Agent in the Active Voice:

  • The singer finished her recital.
    • “singer” is the agent
    • The singer completes the action (finished) in the active voice.
  • The baker woke early.
    • “baker” is the agent.
    • The baker completes the action (woke) in the active voice.

The Agent in the Passive Voice

passive voice actor nounsThe passive voice occurs when the action is done by what seems like it should be the object.

Examples of Passive Voice:

  • The play was written by Shakespeare.

It seems like Shakespeare should be the subject. However, the play is actually the subject of this sentence. A good key indicator for passive voice is a “to be” verb and past participle.

  • The ball was hit by Jeremy.

In this example, the ball is subject, and the “doer” of the action, Jeremy, has become the object.

In the passive voice, the agent is found after the verb (and often after a preposition).

Examples of Agent in the Passive Voice:

  • The recital was finished by the singer.
  • The cake was made by the baker.

In these sentences, the agent is at the end of each sentence (baker and singer).

Summary: What is the Grammatical Agent?

Define grammatical agent: the definition of grammatical agent is the doer of an action. In the active voice, the agent precedes the action; in the passive voice, the agent follows the action.

In summary, an agent is a noun.

More specifically, an agent is a person who performs an action. An agent is different from a recipient noun in that the agent performs an action and the recipient noun receives the action.