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Passive and Active Voices

Verbs are also said to be either active (The executive
committee approved the new policy) or passive (The new policy was
approved by the executive committee) in voice. In the active voice, the subject
and verb relationship is straightforward: the subject is a be-er or a do-er and the
verb moves the sentence along. In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence
is neither a do-er or a be-er, but is acted upon by some other agent or by
something unnamed (The new policy was approved). Computerized grammar
checkers can pick out a passive voice construction from miles away and ask you
to revise it to a more active construction. There is nothing inherently wrong with
the passive voice, but if you can say the same thing in the active mode, do so (see
exceptions below). Your text will have more pizzazz as a result, since passive
verb constructions tend to lie about in their pajamas and avoid actual work.
We find an overabundance of the passive voice in sentences created by selfprotective business interests, magniloquent educators, and bombastic military
writers (who must get weary of this accusation), who use the passive
voice to avoid responsibility for actions taken. Thus "Cigarette ads were
designed to appeal especially to children" places the burden on the ads
— as opposed to "We designed the cigarette ads to appeal especially to children,"
in which "we" accepts responsibility. At a White House press briefing we might
hear that "The President was advised that certain members of Congress were
being audited" rather than "The Head of the Internal Revenue service advised the
President that her agency was auditing certain members of Congress" because the
passive construction avoids responsibility for advising and for auditing. One
further caution about the passive voice: we should not mix active and passive
constructions in the same sentence: "The executive committee approved the new
policy, and the calendar for next year's meetingswas revised" should be recast as
"The executive committee approved the new policy and revised the calendar for
next year's meeting."
Take the quiz (below) as an exercise in recognizing and changing passive
The passive voice does exist for a reason, however, and its
presence is not always to be despised. The passive is particularly
useful (even recommended) in two situations:

When it is more important to draw our attention to the person or
thing acted upon: The unidentified victim was apparently struck during the
early morning hours.

in various tenses. say." The passive voice is also useful when describing. Tense Subject Present Singular . When the actor in the situation is not important: The aurora borealis can be observed in the early morning hours. Instead of writing "I poured 20 cc of acid into the beaker.† Passive Verb Formation The passive forms of a verb are created by combining a form of the "to be verb" with the past participle of the main verb. . . . Past perfect The car/cars had been had been designed. The executive committee approved an entirely new policy for dealing with academic suspension and withdrawal. Present perfect The car/cars has been have been designed." The passive can be used. also. Other helping verbs are also sometimes present: "The measure could have been killed in committee. The policy had been written by a subcommittee on student behavior. where the actor is not really important but the process or principle being described is of ultimate importance. The passive voice is especially helpful (and even regarded as mandatory) in scientific or technical writing or lab reports." We use the passive voice to good effect in a paragraph in which we wish to shift emphasis from what was the object in a first sentence to what becomes the subject in subsequent sentences. If students withdraw from course work before suspension can take effect. a mechanical process in which the details of process are much more important than anyone's taking responsibility for the action: "The first coat of primer paint is applied immediately after the acid rinse. Past The car/cars was were designed. Let's take a look at the passive forms of "design. the policy states. The paragraph is clearly about this new policy so it is appropriate that policy move from being the object in the first sentence to being the subject of the second sentence. The passive voice allows for this transition. a mark of "IW" ." we would write "Twenty cc of acid is/was poured into the beaker." Auxiliary Plural Past Participle The car/cars is are designed.

." But a perfectly good sentence would leave out the gorilla: "The tin can was crushed. Furthermore. can perform various functions within a sentence (just like the active forms of the infinitive). for instance. Present progressive The car/cars is being Past progressive The car/cars was being will be designed. To have is the most important of these verbs. Passive Jorge was given an A. Only transitive verbs (those that take objects) can be transformed into passive constructions. We can say "He has a new car. Passive An A was given to Jorge by Professor Villa.Future The car/cars will be Future perfect The car/cars will have been will have been designed. when an active sentence with an indirect object is recast in the passive. active sentences containing certain verbs cannot be transformed into passive structures." but we cannot say "A new car is had by him." We can say "Josefina lacked finesse. A sentence cast in the passive voice will not always include an agent of the action. the indirect object can take on the role of subject in the passive sentence: Active Professor Villa gave Jorge an A. For instance if a gorilla crushes a tin can. are being designed." Also. we could say "The tin can was crushed by the gorilla. were being designed." Here is a brief list of such verbs*: resemble look like equal agree with mean contain hold comprise lack suit fit become Verbals in Passive Structures Verbals or verb forms can also take on features of the passive voice." but we cannot say "Finesse was lacked. An infinitive phrase in the passive voice.

the Pathseeker does not always behave well on paved highways. With passive participles.    Subject: Being elected by my peers was a great thrill. Object: I really don't like being lectured to by my boss. the thing doing the action is the subject of the sentence and the thing receiving the action is the object. Object: That child really likes to be read to by her mother. The same is true of passive gerunds. Object of preposition: I am so tired of being lectured to by my boss. [Thing doing action] + [verb] + [thing receiving action] Examples: Passive Form In passive sentences. Modifier: Grasso was the first woman to be elected governor in her own right. Active Form In active sentences. You can also use the passive form if you do not know who is doing the action or if you do not want to mention who is doing the action. the result being a simple modifying participial phrase. . part of the passive construction is often omitted. Most sentences are active. the thing receiving the action is the subject of the sentence and the thing doing the action is optionally included near the end of the sentence.  [Having been] designed for off-road performance.   Subject: To be elected by my peers is a great honor. You can use the passive form if you think that the thing receiving the action is more important or should be emphasized.

The restaurant's fantastic d Jones for two years before h Simple Future will Someone will finish the work by 5:00 PM. Present Perfect Many tourists have visited that castle. Past Perfect Continuous Chef Jones had been preparing the restaurant's fantastic dinners for two years before he moved to Paris. Recently. The customer was being he came into the store. the work has bee Past Perfect George had repaired many cars before he received his mechanic's license. The work will be finished b . Tom cleans the house. Many cars had been repaire mechanic's license. The car was repaired by Sam Past Continuous The salesman was helping the customer when the thief came into the store. the letter is bein Simple Past Sam repaired the car. Once a week. Right now. John has been doing the work. the house is c Present Continuous Right now. That castle has been visited Present Perfect Continuous Recently.[Thing receiving action] + [be] + [past participle of verb] + [by] + [thing doing action] Examples: Active / Passive Overview Tense Active Passive Simple Present Once a week. Sarah is writing the letter.

I thought a beautiful dinner Copyright © 2016 Englishpage. At 8:00 PM tonight. It is not important or not known. the dish Future Perfect will They will have completed the project before the deadline. The project is going to have Future Perfect Continuous will The famous artist will have been painting the mural for over six months by the time it is finished. A beautiful dinner is going t Future Continuous will At 8:00 PM tonight. The pies would always be m Future in the Past Would I knew John would finish the work by 5:00 PM. I knew the work would be f Future in the Past Was Going to I thought Sally was going to make a beautiful dinner tonight. The mural will have been b six months by the time it is Future Perfect Continuous be going to The famous artist is going to have been painting the mural for over six months by the time it is finished. . the dish Future Continuous be going to At 8:00 PM tonight. John is going to be washing the dishes. The mural is going to have for over six months by the t Used to Jerry used to pay the bills. Passive Voice Use of Passive Passive voice is used when the focus is on the action. At 8:00 PM tonight. All Rights Reserved. John will be washing the dishes.Simple Future be going to Sally is going to make a beautiful dinner tonight. The project will have been Future Perfect be going to They are going to have completed the project before the deadline. The bills used to be paid by Would Always My mother would always make the pies. who or what is performing the action.

Rita has written a letter. however.g. as the following example shows: Example: A mistake was made. Rita A letter Rita A letter Rita . has been written by Rita. A letter was written by Rita.Example: My bike was stolen. You have made a mistake. is written by Rita. In this case. When rewriting active sentences in passive voice. will write a letter. In the example above. but I do not blame anyone (e. I focus on the fact that a mistake was made. Form of Passive Subject + finite form of to be + Past Participle (3rd column of irregular verbs) Example: A letter was written.). Sometimes a statement in passive is more polite than active voice. I do not know. wrote a letter. who did it. note the following:  the object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence  the finite form of the verb is changed (to be + past participle)  the subject of the active sentence becomes the object of the passive sentence (or is dropped) Examples of Passive Tense Simple Present Subject Active: Passive: Simple Past Active: Passive: Present Perfect Active: Passive: Future I Active: Verb Object writes a letter. the focus is on the fact that my bike was stolen.

would have written a letter. A letter Active: Future II is being written Rita Passive: Past Perfect a letter. Subject Verb Object 1 Object 2 . would write a letter. would be written by Rita. A letter Active: Rita Passive: Conditional II was writing Rita Passive: Conditional I by Rita. A letter had been written by Rita. A letter Active: A letter Active: Rita Passive: Object is writing Rita Passive: Verb A letter Passive Sentences with Two Objects Rewriting an active sentence with two objects in passive voice means that one of the two objects becomes the subject. would have been written by Rita. will have been written by Rita. can write a letter. had written a letter. Examples of Passive Tense Present Progressive Subject Active: Past Progressive Active: Passive: a letter. was being written by Rita. Rita will have written a letter. Which object to transform into a subject depends on what you want to put the focus on. can be written by Rita.Passive: Hilfsverben A letter Active: Rita Passive: A letter will be written by Rita. the other one remains an object.

Personal Passive is more common.g. The rest of the sentence is added using an infinitive construction with 'to' (certain auxiliary verbs and that are dropped). Latin).Active: Rita wrote a letter to me. German. Passive: I was written a letter by Rita. you need an impersonal construction – therefore this passive is called Impersonal Passive. think. g. Example: They say that women live longer than men. Impersonal Passive is only possible with verbs of perception (e. Personal and Impersonal Passive Personal Passive simply means that the object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence. Example: They build houses. Passive: A letter was written to me by Rita. say. If you want to use an intransitive verb in passive voice. adding by Rita does not sound very elegant. – Women are said to live longer than men. So every verb that needs an object (transitive verb) can form a personal passive. Verbs without an object (intransitive verb) normally cannot form a personal passive sentence (as there is no object that can become the subject of the passive sentence). . – It is said that women live longer than men. Example: They say that women live longer than men. That’s why it is usually dropped. Example: he says – it is said Impersonal Passive is not as common in English as in some other languages (e. – Houses are built. the verb of perception is put into passive voice. Although Impersonal Passive is possible here. The subject of the subordinate clause (women) goes to the beginning of the sentence. know). As you can see in the examples. In English. .

A mass of gases wrap around our pla . not in the people who are doing the repairs.) The road is being repaired.) The house was built in 1654. PASSIVE VOICE FUNCTIONS OF THE PASSIVE VOICE The passive voice is used to show interest in the person or object that experiences an action rather than the person or object that performs the action. Switching to the active voice will make your writing clearer and easier to read. EXAMPLES     I noticed that a window had been left open. In other words.Sometimes the term Personal Passive is used in English lessons if the indirect object of an active sentence is to become the subject of the passive sentence. Passive Active A great deal of meaning is conveyed by a few well-chosen words. A few well-chosen words convey a gr Our planet is wrapped in a mass of gases. Every year thousands of people are killed on our roads. My car has been stolen! The passive voice is often used in formal texts. (= we are interested in the road. All the cookies have been eaten. (= we are interested in the house. not in who built it. not in who uses it. EXAMPLES    The passive voice is used frequently.) Sometimes we use the passive voice because we don't know or do not want to express who performed the action. (= we are interested in the passive voice. the most important thing or person becomes the subject of the sentence.

FORMING THE PASSIVE VOICE The passive voice in English is composed of two elements: the appropriate form of the verb 'to be' + past participle Affirmative Negative Interrogative Nega The house was built in 1899. Were these houses built in 1899? Were . This house was built by my father. The Beatles wrote "A Hard Day's N The movie ET was directed by Spielberg. Read more about the passive voice and active equivalents for all English verb tenses. Was the house built in 1899? Wasn These houses were built in 1899. When we know who performed the action and are interested in him. The city disposes of waste materials If we want to say who or what performs the action while using the passive voice. Spielberg directed the movie ET. it is always better to switch to the active voice instead. My father built this house.Passive Active Waste materials are disposed of in a variety of ways. we use the preposition by. The house wasn't built in 1899. These houses weren't built in 1899. Passive Active "A Hard Day's Night" was written by the Beatles.

TO CLEAN. is being cleaned at the momen was cleaned yesterday. PASSIVE VOICE Subject + to be (conjugated) + past participle + rest of sent is cleaned every day. Simple present The house Present continuous The house Simple past The house Past continuous The house Present perfect The house Past perfect The house Future The house . has been cleaned since you left had been cleaned before they a will be cleaned next week. was being cleaned last week.

I expect to be surprised on my birthday. She wants to be invited to the party. John might be promoted next year. . would be cleaned if they had vis would have been cleaned if it had been must be cleaned before we arr Future continuous The house Present conditional The house Past conditional The house Inifinitive The house PASSIVE VOICE WITH INFINITIVES The infinitive passive voice is used after modal verbs and other most verbs normally followed by an infinitive. EXAMPLES      You have to be tested on your English grammar. You may be disappointed.Subject + to be (conjugated) + past participle + rest of sent will be being cleaned tomorrow. PASSIVE VOICE WITH GERUNDS Gerunds are used after prepositions and verbs normally followed by a gerund.

However. Poodles like to be pampered. Sometimes the passive is formed using the verb to get or to have instead of the verb to be. The children are excited about being taken to the zoo. the present or future tense is appropriate. USING "TO BE BORN" "To be born" is an passive form and is most commonly used in the past tense. A separate page deals with these alternative ways to form the passive voice. Most film stars hate being interviewed. . We don't know on exactly which day the baby will be born.EXAMPLES        I remember being taught to drive. Most film stars hate to be interviewed. in some cases. Poodles like being pampered. EXAMPLES     I was born in 1976. The children are excited to be taken to the zoo. Where were you born? Around 100 babies are born in this hospital every week.