Passive Voice in English Grammar

Passive Voice in English Grammar

Understanding the passive voice is important. The passive voice is used often by native English speakers. It's used both in formal and informal situations.

Passive Voice in English Grammar

Passive Voice

There are times when you don't want to say who or what did the action. Maybe you want to avoid the responsibility of telling who or what did something; or maybe you don't know who or what did the action; or the object of the sentence is actually the most important part of your utterance.
You can use the passive voice to change the focus of your sentence.
To understand the passive voice, first you need to know about the active voice.

Active Voice

Most English sentences is constructed by the structure 'subject + verb + object'. This structure creates a sentence in the active voice. The subject does the action to the object.

Sarah eats the pizza .

This is an active sentence, cause the ''subject'' is clear at the beginning of the sentence.

Now imagine that you do not know who ate the pizza. In this case, you need to use the passive voice.

The pizza is eaten .

It is obvious that we do not know the doer of the action.

Passive Voice: Structure

Passive voice is constructed by the 'be verb + past participle'. To make a passive sentence we need to use the passive tense.

  1. Identify the subject, the verb and the object of the active sentence.
  2. Move the object to become the new subject of the sentence.
  3. Check the verb tense in the active sentence.
  4. Conjugate the verb 'be' so it is in the same tense as the tense in the active sentence.
  5. Add the past participle of the main verb and put it after the verb 'be'.
  6. Decide what to do with the subject of the active sentence.

Jim kicked the ball . → The ball was kicked .

Here we decided not to mention the subject at the end of the passive sentence.

Sarah ate the pizza . → The pizza was eaten .

The object of the active clause becomes the new subject of the passive sentence.

Passive Voice: Different Tenses

Passive Voice: Simple Tenses

Passive voice can be used with many tenses. For example with simple tenses like present simple tense, past simple tense and future simple tense.
To change the tense of a passive sentence, all you need to do is change the form of the verb 'be'. The main verb in a passive sentence is always in the past participle form.

Present simple past simple Future simple
Active I make it. I made it. I will make it.
Passive It is made. It was made. It will be made.
Negation It is not made. It was not made. It will not be made.
Question Is it made? Was it made? Will it be made?

Passive Voice: Continuous Tenses

To change the tense of a passive sentence in the continuous tense, you need to conjugate the verb 'be' in the continuous tense. The main verb in a passive sentence is always in the past participle form.
is/are → is/are being
was/were → was/were being

Present continuous Past continuous Future continuous
Active I am making it. I was making it. I will be making it.
Passive It is being made. It was being made. It will be being made.
Negation It is not being made. It was not being made. It will not be being made.
Question Is it being made? Was it being made? Will it be being made?

Passive Voice: Perfect Tenses

To change the tense of a passive sentence in the perfect tense, you need to conjugate the verb 'be' in the perfect tense.
have → have been
has → has been

Present perfect Past perfect Future perfect
Active I have made it. I had made it. I will have made it.
Passive It has been made. It had been made. It will have been made.
Negation It has not been made. It had not been made. It will not have been made.
Question Has it been made? Had it been made? Will it have been made?

Passive Voice: Perfect Continuous Tenses

To change the tense of a passive sentence in the perfect tense, you need to conjugate the verb 'be' in the perfect continuous tense.
have been → have been being
has been → has been being
Note that it is not common to make passive sentences in the present continuous tenses. So try to keep the sentences in these tenses active.

Present perfect continuous Past perfect continuous Future perfect continuous
Active I have been making it. I had been making it. I will have been making it.
Passive It has been being made. It had been being made. It will have been being made.
Negation It has not been being made. It had been not being made. It will not have been being made.
Question Has it been being made? Had it been being made? Will it have been being made?

the Preposition 'by'

In a passive sentence we should decide what to do with the subject. Of course in the passive voice we don't need to mention who or what did the action. But we can add the subject of the active sentence in the passive sentence with the preposition 'by'.

Jim kicked the ball . → The ball was kicked by Jim .

The subject of the active sentence is mentioned at the end of the passive clause.

Sarah ate the pizza . → The pizza was eaten by Sarah .

We decided to mention the doer.

Passive Voice: Uses

Now let's see where we can use the passive voice.

  • When we do not know who or what is the subject.

Somebody stole my car . → My car was stolen .

We do not know, who stole the car.

  • When it is not important who or what did the action.

Somebody called an ambulance . → An ambulance was called .

It is not important, who called the ambulance.

  • When it is obvious who or what is the doer of the action.

The waiter brought the menu . → The menu was brought .

We all know the waiter brings the menu in a restaurant.

  • In newspaper articles and titles, for example in crime reports.

Somebody murdered a man . → A man was murdered .

It is a crime report.

  • In scientific texts.

Carbon dioxide is produced during the processes of decay of organic materials .

It is a scientific text.

Not All Active Sentences Can Be Passive Ones

Remember that NOT all verbs in English take an object. So, some sentences are complete without an object. Therefore, you cannot make every active sentence into a passive one.

Transitive And Intransitive Verbs

Verbs that must have an object are called transitive, but verbs that do not need an object are intransitive.

John sneezed in the classroom .

''Sneeze'' is an intransitive verb that does not require an object at all.

The water flows .

''Flow'' is an intransitive verb that can not be put in passive form.

I live in America .

Same rule applies here.

Spotlight

The auxiliary verb 'do' and its other forms 'does' and 'did' do not appear in the passive sentences.

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