Passive voice

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Passive voice.

The passive voice is used to show interest in the person or object that experiences an action rather than a person or object that performs the action. In the other words the most important thing or person becomes the subject of the sentence. Passive voice sentences politer than active sentences.

  • The passive voice is used frequently

(We interested in the passive voice, not it who uses it)

The house was built in 1654. (We are interested in the house, not in who built it.)

  • The road is being repaired. (We are interested in the road, not in the people who doing the repair.)

When do we use passive voice?

In some sentences, passive voice can be perfectly acceptable. You might use it in the following cases.

  1. The actor is unknown.

The cave paintings of Lascaux were made in the upper old stone age. (We don’t know who made them)

  1. 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.)

  1. When you want to be vague about who is responsible.

Mistakes were made (common in bureaucratic writing.)

  1. When you talk about general truth.

Rules are made to be broken. (By whomever, Whenever)

  1. When you want to emphasize the person or thing acted on. For example, it may your main topic.

Insulin was first discovered in 1921 by researchers at the University of Toronto. It is still the only treatment for diabetes.


  1. When you write 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 discovered in water. This solution was then titrated with Hydrochloric acid. 

In passive voice:

In an active voice sentence, the subject is given the prominence.

We usually eat rice for lunch.

This sentence shows the action done by ‘we’ so it is prominent in the sense of the sentence.

Rice is usually eaten for lunch by us.

In this sentence, the ‘doer’ or the subject does not handle the prominence, instead, the object ‘rice’ appears as the most important factor.

The passive voice is so called because the person or thing denoted by the subject is not active but passive.

Change the object of the active sentence into the subject of the passive sentence.


Active voice:       Teacher always advises us.

Passive voice:     We are always advised by teacher.

 When the verb is changed form the active voice to the passive voice, the object of the active voice sentence becomes the subject of the passive voice sentence.

Passive voice is preferred, when the object is more important in the idea expressed.

 Example: Idea – Export of rubber from Thailand.

When this idea is expressed in a sentence, the commodity ‘rubber’ is more important. Therefore, such ideas are purposely expressed in passive voice.

Rubber is exported from Thailand.

The Passive voice is also preferred, when in the Active Voice sentence, the subject happens to be a vague pronoun or noun.

Example: somebody, they, people etc.

It is better to say, My pen has been stolen.

In such cases, the agent with ‘by’ is usually avoided.

However, ’by’ phrase cannot be avoided in places where the agent has come important and is necessary to complete the sense.

Example: Charles Dickens wrote the famous children’s novel ‘Oliver Twist’.

The famous children’s novel was written by Charles Dickens.

The Passive verbs are usually formed with the past participle form of verb. It is assisted by auxiliaries.


                                        Formation of the verbs.



                        Change of pronoun.

Subject Object















                                          Simple present tense

Active voice Passive voice
He sings a song.


He does not sing a song.


Does he sing a song?

A song sung by him.


A song is not sung by him.


Is a song sung by him?


                                           Past tense

Active voice Passive voice
I killed an ant.


I did not kill an ant.


Did I kill an ant?

An ant was killed by me.


An ant was not killed by me.


Was an ant killed by me?



                                             Present continuous 

Active voice Passive voice
I am writing a letter.


I am not writing a letter.


Am I writing a letter?

A letter is being written by me.


A letter is not being written by me.


Is a letter being written by me?




                                            Present perfect

Active voice Passive voice
She has finished her work.


She has not finished her work.


Has she finished her work?

Her work has been finished by her.


Her work has not been finished by her.


Has her work been finished by her?


                                                    Past perfect

Active voice Passive voice
They had completed the assignment.


They had not completed the assignment.

Had they completed the assignment?

The assignment had been completed by them.

The assignment had not been completed by them.

Had the assignment been completed by them?


                                                    Simple future

Active voice Passive voice
She will buy a car.


She won’t buy a car.


Will she buy a car?



A car will be bought by her.


A car won’t be bought by her.


Will a car be bought by her?






                                                   Future perfect

Active voice Passive voice
You will have started the job.


You will have not started the job.


Will you have started the job?

The job will have been started by you.


The job will not have been started by you.


Will the job have been started by you?





Passive without by:

The visitors were driven to the airport.

The following tenses cannot be changed into passive voice.

  • Present perfect continuous.
  • Past perfect continuous.
  • Future perfect continuous.
  • Sentence having intransitive verb.
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