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PASSIVE VOICE: WHEN TO USE IT AND WHEN TO AVOID IT

What is passive voice?


ACTIVE: Werner Heisenberg formulated the uncertainty principle in 1927.
PASSIVE
: The uncertainty principle was formulated by Werner Heisenberg in 1927
/ The uncertainty principle was formulated in 1927.
In an active sentence, the person or thing responsible for the action in the
sentence comes first. In a passive sentence, the person or thing acted on comes
first, and the actor is added at the end, introduced with the preposition by.
The passive form of the verb is signaled by a form of to be". In a passive sentence, we
often omit the actor completely.

When do I use passive voice?


1. The actor is unknown:
The cave paintings of Lascaux were made in the Upper Old Stone Age. (We dont
know who made them.)
2. The actor is irrelevant:
An experimental solar power plant will be built in the Australian desert. (We are
not interested in who is building it.)
3. You want to be vague about who is responsible:
Mistakes were made. (Common in bureaucratic writing!)
4. You are talking about a general truth:
Rules are made to be broken. (By whomever, whenever.)
5. You want to emphasize the person or thing acted on. For example, it may be your
main topic:
Insulin was first discovered in 1921 by researchers at the University of Toronto. It
is still the only treatment available for diabetes.
6. You are writing in a scientific genre that traditionally relies on passive voice. Passive
voice is often preferred in lab reports and scientific research papers, most
notably in the Materials and Methods section:
The sodium hydroxide was dissolved in water. This solution was then titrated with
hydrochloric acid.
In these sentences you can count on your reader to know that you are the one
who did the dissolving and the titrating. The passive voice places the emphasis
on your experiment rather than on you.
When should I avoid passive voice?
Passive sentences can get you into trouble in academic writing because they can be
vague about who is responsible for the action:
Both Othello and Iago desire Desdemona. She is courted. (Who courts
Desdemona? Othello? Iago? Both of them?)
Academic writing often focuses on differences between the ideas of different
researchers, or between your own ideas and those of the researchers you are
discussing. Too many passive sentences can create confusion:
Research has been done to discredit this theory. (Who did the research? You? Your
professor? Another author?)
Some students use passive sentences to hide holes in their research:
The telephone was invented in the nineteenth century. (I couldnt find out who
invented the telephone!)
Finally, passive sentences often sound wordy and indirect. They can make the
reader work unnecessarily hard. And since they are usually longer than active
sentences, passive sentences take up precious room in your paper:
Since the car was being driven by Michael at the time of the accident, the

damages should be paid for by him.


Weeding out passive sentences
To spot passive sentences, look for a form of the verb to be in your sentence, with the
actor either missing or introduced after the verb using the word by:
Poland was invaded in 1939, thus initiating the Second World War. (Germany
invaded Poland in 1939, thus initiating the Second World War. )
Genetic information is encoded by DNA. (DNA encodes genetic information.)
The possibility of cold fusion has been examined for many years. (Physicists have
examined the
possibility of cold fusion for many years.)
How to make passive sentences
The passive forms are made up of the verb be with a past participle:
be

past
participle

English

is

spoken

The windows

have been

cleaned

Lunch

was being

served

The work

will be

finished

soon

They

might have been

invited

to the party

all over the


world

We sometimes use the verb get to form the passive:


Be careful with the glass. It might get broken.
Peter got hurt in a crash.
If we want to show the person or thing doing the action we use by:
She was attacked by a dangerous dog.
The money was stolen by her husband.
We can use the indirect object as the subject of a passive verb:

active

passive

I gave him a book for his birthday

>
>

He was given a book for his birthday.

Someone sent her a cheque for a


thousand euros

>
>

She was sent a cheque for a thousand


euros.

We can use phrasal verbs in the passive:

active
They called off the meeting.

passive
>

The meeting was called off.

>
His grandmother looked after
him.

>
>

He was looked after by his


grandmother.

They will send him away to


school.

>
>

He will be sent away to school.

Some verbs very frequently used in the passive are followed by the toinfinitive:

be supposed to

be expected to

be asked to

be scheduled to

be allowed to

be told to

John has been asked to make a speech at the meeting.


You are supposed to wear a uniform.
The meeting is scheduled to start at seven.

Tenses

Prese
nt

Past

Rumus

Contoh

Simple

am/is/are + past participle

The crafts are made of wood.

Continuo
us

am/is/are + being + past


participle

The room is being cleaned.

Perfect

has/have + been + past


participle

Your requests have been


approved.

Simple

was/were + past participle

The mansion was built in 1990.

Continuo
us

was/were + being + past


participle

Your gown was being washed.

Perfect

had + been+ past


participle

The fence had been painted in


green.

Simple

will + be + past participle

The packet will be sent


immediately.

Perfect

will + have + been + past


participle

The article will have been read


ninety times.

Future

1. The window _____ by the carpenter when you came.


a. Is being repaired

b. Was being repaired


2. The computer _____ by that guy.
a. Has been sold
b. Has been being sold
3. She cant be _____ by this gun.
a. stop
b. stopped
4. Ubah ke passive voice He will change the answer.
a. The answer will be changed by him
b. The answer would be changed by him
5. I knew when the room _____.
a. Was being cleaned
b. Is being cleaned
6. Ubah ke passive voice I have taken the salt.
a. The salt has been taken by me
b. The salt have been taken by me
7. The books _____ by Mr. Suherman last week.
a. Was bought
b. Is bought
8. He is _____ by the principal now.
a. Being punished
b. Been punished
9. The next year examination _____ perfectly.
a. would be passed
b. should be passed
10. Ubah ke passive voice He took the medicine.
a. The medicine is taken by him
b. The medicine was taken by him
11. You can buy cameras like this anywhere
12.He has sold his car to pay son's debts
13.They owed a lot of money to the bank
14.People have proved that there is no life on the moon
15.They informed me about the accident
16.The man will take you home this afternoon
17.They will despatch our order next month
18.They are building a new hospital near the shopping center
19.The manager always welcomes the new emplyees
20.Somebody was cleaning the house when I was there