ENGLISH GRAMMAR: THE PASSIVE VOICE

Written by: Helena

Helena is from Cape Town, South Africa. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Drama from Stellenbosch University in 2007 and is also TEFL qualified. Helena has been teaching for three years. She spent two years teaching in South Korea as a classroom teacher at an English Academy and has been teaching students of all ages and levels online for the last year. She has a great passion for traveling and has lived and worked in four different countries. Helena believes some of the most important aspects of teaching are to make your students feel confident and comfortable and aiming to keep your lessons interesting, engaging, and fun!

 

The function of the Passive Voice:

This form of grammar is used to show interest in the person or object that experiences an action rather than the person or object that performs it. So, the most important thing or person becomes the subject of the sentence.

When you write, always think about whether you should use the Passive or Active Voice. This will depend on what you, the writer, want to convey: if you want to draw attention to the doer, use the Passive Voice; if your intent is to put the focus on the action and not the doer, then you should go for the Active Voice.

 

Structural Formulas

Let’s take a look at the structure and how it can change from Active to Passive:

Active Voice: Subject + Action (Verb) + Object

Examples: I draw a sketch.

She writes a letter.

Passive Voice: Object + Action (Verb) + Subject

Examples: A sketch is drawn by me.

A letter is written by her.

This changes for different tenses: 

Take note that the verb forms change as a sentence is changed from Active to Passive. Now, let’s look at how the verb forms and pronouns change for different tenses:

 

Pronouns change for different voices:

I – ME

WE – US

YOU – YOU

HE – HIM

SHE – HER

IT – IT

THEY – THEM

 

Explanations and Examples:

 

1) Present Simple Tense

Present Simple Passive is used to talk about some actions that are performed habitually or in the present (now), simple statements of fact or things that are always true.

Active VoicePassive Voice
VERB FORM: First Form /Base FormVERB FORM: is/am/are + Past Participle
I write a letter.A letter is written by me.
She speaks French.French is spoken by her.
He does not drink coffee.Coffee is not drunk by him.

When an Active voice in Present Simple Tense is converted into Passive Voice; the verb is changed into past participle form complemented with the Auxiliary Verbs – is, are, am. Pronouns I, she, he, they are changed to me, her, him and them respectively.

2) Present Continuous Tense

For actions happening right now or in progress at the moment of speaking, or when we want to focus attention on the person or thing affected by the action when the subject is unknown, unclear, or irrelevant, we use the present continuous tense.

Active VoicePassive Voice
VERB FORM: is/am/are + ing form of the VerbVERB FORM: is/am/are + being + Past Participle
I am writing a letter.A letter is being written by me.
They are not playing football.Football is not being played by them.
He is riding a horse.A horse is being ridden by him.

Pronouns I, she, he, they are changed to me, her, him, and them respectively, while converting to Passive Voices. For changing from Active to Passive ‘ing’ form of the verb is replaced by the Past Participle form.

3) Present Perfect Tense

We use the Present Perfect Passive form for all the same reasons we use it in the active form – to talk about experiences or something that has been done by someone up to the present time.

Active VoicePassive Voice
VERB FORM: has/have + Past ParticipleVERB FORM: has/have + been + Past Participle
I have eaten a pie.A pie has been eaten by me.
He has written a letter.A letter has been written by him.
They have bought two cars.Two cars have been bought by them.

The same rule applies to the Pronouns- I, she, he, they are changed to me, her, him, and them respectively, while converting to Passive Voices. Active & Passive Voices in Present Perfect Tense have the Past Participle form of the verb.

4) Simple Past Tense

Past Simple Passive is normally used to talk about some completed actions in the past. In the passive voice, the emphasis is put on the effect or result of an action rather than on the doer.

Active VoicePassive Voice
VERB FORM: Past Tense FormVERB FORM: was/were + Past Participle
I ate a burger.A burger was eaten by me.
They bought two cats.Two cats were bought by them.
She wrote two letters.Two letters were written by her.

The same rule applies to the Pronouns- I, she, he, they, and we are changed to me, her, him them, and us respectively, while converting to Passive Voices. Active Voices in Simple Past Tense have Past form (second form) of the verb which is changed to Past Participle while converting to Passive Voices.

5) Past Continuous Tense

Past Continuous Passive is used to talk about actions that were ongoing at a particular moment in the past, but not anymore. The emphasis is on the process.

Active VoicePassive Voice
VERB FORM: Was/were + ing form of the verbVERB FORM: was/were + being + Past Participle
I was eating a burger.A burger was being eaten by me.
She was feeding the cats.The cats were being fed by her.
They were cleaning the utensils.The utensils were being cleaned by them.

The same rule applies to the Pronouns- I, she, he, they, and we are changed to me, her, him them, and us respectively, while converting to Passive Voices. Active Voices in Past Continuous Tense have ‘ing’ form of the verb which is changed to Past Participle (preceded by ‘being’) while converting to Passive Voices.

6) Past Perfect Tense

The Past Perfect Passive expresses and emphasizes a previous action or state that began in the past and continued up to another point in the past and whose consequences have implications for that second point in time.

Active VoicePassive Voice
VERB FORM: had + Past ParticipleVERB FORM: had been+ Past Participle
I had written a letter.A letter had been written by me.
She had not read the book.The book had not been read by her.
I had purchased a book.A book had been purchased by me.

Here also the same rules apply to the Pronouns- I, she, he, they, and we are changed to me, her, him them, and us respectively, while converting to Passive Voices. Active Voices in Past Perfect Tense have Past Participle (third form) form of the verb which remains the same i.e. Past Participle but preceded by “had been” while converting to Passive Voices. While converting from Passive Voices to Active Voices ‘been’ is omitted and the verb form remains the same.

7) Future Simple Tense

Future Simple Passive is used to talk about an action that is going to happen in the future, that has not happened yet. In the passive voice, the emphasis is put on the effect of an action rather than on the doer.

Active VoicePassive Voice
VERB FORM: will/shall + first form of the verbVERB FORM: will/shall + be + Past Participle
They will watch a movie.A movie will be watched by them.
We shall write a letter.A letter shall be written by us.
She will sing a song.A song will be sung by her.

Here also the same rules apply to the Pronouns- I, she, he, they, and we are changed to me, her, him them, and us respectively, while converting to Passive Voices.  Active Voices in Future Simple Tense have the First form of the verb which is changed to Past Participle (preceded by ‘be’) form while converting to Passive Voices. The helping verb ‘be’ is omitted while converting to Active Voice from Passive Voice.

8) Future Perfect Tense

Future Perfect Passive is used to talk about actions or events that will be finished by a certain moment in the future that we are aware of. When we use this tense we are projecting ourselves forward into the future and looking back at an action that will be completed sometime later than now.

Active VoicePassive Voice
VERB FORM: will/shall + have + Past ParticipleVERB FORM: will/shall + have been + Past Participle
I will have hired a cab.A cab will have been hired by me.
She will have written a letter.A letter will have been written by them.
They will not have eaten the dinner.The dinner will have not been eaten by them.

Here also the same rules apply to the Pronouns- I, she, he, they, and we are changed to me, her, him them, and us respectively, while converting to Passive Voices. Active Voices in Future Perfect Tense have Past Participle form of the verb which remains same i.e. Past Participle form while converting to Passive Voices; with the only difference that ‘have’ in Active Voice is replaced by ‘have been’ in Passive voice. While converting from Passive Voice in Future Perfect, ‘been’ is omitted to keep the verb form unchanged.

When should you use the Passive Voice?

 

Use the Passive Voice to emphasize results:

Because of its impersonal approach, the passive voice is well suited for scientific, academic, and technical language to emphasize results. The passive voice helps writers to present facts, results, processes, etc. that allows us to avoid unnecessary repetitions or personal pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘We’. This means that the writer provides information that does not appear biased by personal perspectives.

Examples:

Both respiration rates and internal body temperature were shown to increase with movement.

The rat was placed into a T-shaped maze.

The door was left open.

 

Passive Voice to present facts:

The Passive Voice is usually associated with a more polite, formal, or neutral style of writing and this makes it popular in presenting facts or rules. The Passive Voice is also useful for this purpose in cases where the actor is unknown, irrelevant,  or obvious, or where we are trying not to blame a specific person.

Examples:

An amount of $3 million was stolen from a bank in Miami.

Mistakes were made.

Employees are not permitted to be under the influence or in possession of drugs or alcohol during paid work hours.

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