Using the Passive Voice
Most sentences are in the active voice, but it’s important for students to be able to use and recognize the passive voice. To use the passive voice, they need to know the past participles of verbs, how to form the passive voice, and when to use it.
Active vs Passive
In active clauses, the subject is the agent. The agent does some action or has its state changed. In the following sentence, you is the subject and agent, kick is the verb, and ball is the direct object:
You kicked the ball.
In passive clauses, the subject is not an agent. Instead, the object becomes the subject:
The ball was kicked (by you).
The agent can be mentioned with by, but it’s optional.
Subject + BE (or GET) + Past Participle (+ by AGENT)
The building was/got destroyed.
Some verbs can’t be used in the passive voice. See the following chart:
|Verb Type||Active Example||Passive Example|
|Object verb||She made the muffins.||The muffins were made by her.|
|Complement verb||She has been very upset.||NO PASSIVE|
|Two-object verb||She gave her cousin the news.||Her cousin was given the news. / The news was given to her cousin.|
|Object-complement verb||She calls her husband ‘Hubby’.||Her husband is called ‘Hubby’ by her.|
|No-object verb||She smiled.||NO PASSIVE|
Compared with BE, using GET can feel informal, and it can also suggest:
The action is unexpected: I was online for 10 minutes, and then I got cut off.
A sense of achievement: We finally got approved for a loan.
When to Use the Passive Voice
We use the passive to express:
What happened to the subject: I’ve been shot.
Who or what did something: This cake was baked by Cindy.
How something was done: The house was poorly designed.
the agent is unimportant: No one was hurt.
the agent is unknown: This program was developed in the 90s
we don't want to mention the agent: The files were accidentally erased
by Jim in sales.
the agent is obvious: Computers should be left on overnight
by each employee.
And to move a long subject to the back of a sentence:
- The public in general has been disappointed by the actions the President took which were intended to satisfy his supporters.
Practice using the passive voice in discussion with these conversation questions.