2. Active and Passive voice

2. Active and Passive voice



    1. Active and Passive Voice
    2. When to use the Passive Voice
    3. Negative Sentences
    4. Interrogative Sentences
    5. Imperative Sentences
    6. Verb with two objects
    7. Passive Voice + basic modal forms
    8. Facts about Passive Voice
    9. Exercises
    10. Past paper questions

    Active and Passive Voice

    An idea can be expressed in two different ways. We can do it by using a verb to indicate whether the subject performs an action (active voice) or receives the action (passive voice).

    Active voice: The verb is in the active voice when the subject does the action.
    EXAMPLE: A cat ate the fish. (Subject: cat / Verb: ate / Object: fish)
    Here, the doer of the action is a cat and the verb "ate" is in the active voice. The object comes after the verb.

    Passive voice: When action is done to the subject, the verb is in the passive voice. The previous object (fish) is now used as the subject.
    EXAMPLE: The food was eaten by a Amar. (Verb: eaten / Subject: Amar)
    Here, action is done to the subject and the verb "was eaten" is in the passive voice. The subject comes before the verb.

    In changing a sentence, as above, from active voice to one in the passive voice, we make the object of the active voice sentence the subject of the passive voice sentence. The verb used in a passive voice sentence is formed by adding the past participle to "to be" (am, is, are, was, were, has been, have been, will be, etc.) Passive verbs have the same tenses (simple present tense, present continuous tense, present perfect tense, etc.) as active verbs.

    Only verbs which take on an object can be changed to the passive. (Example: He runs away. This sentence has no object, so it's not possible to turn it into a passive sentence.)

    When we choose passive sentences, we use the preposition 'by' to show who or what does or has done the action (as shown above: The food was eaten by Amar.) We use 'by' only when we have to.
     When to use the Passive Voice

    We use the active voice whenever we can. We use only the passive voice:
    • when we don't know who performs the action;
    EXAMPLE: The bank was broken into last night.

    • When we know or it is important to know who performs an action.
    EXAMPLE: This painting was done by my grandmother.

    • When the action itself is more important than the doer.
    EXAMPLE: Siblings were tragically killed in a road accident.

    • When we are interested only in what happens rather than who or what did it.
    EXAMPLE: The giant snake was killed in that village.

    • When we choose not to name the one who performs the action.
    EXAMPLE: The work was poorly done.

    • When it is not important to know who does, or did the action;
    EXAMPLE: All these wares were imported from Hong Kong.

    • When we don't want to take responsibility for something;
    EXAMPLE: The matter is currently dealt with by someone.

    • When we wish to emphasize the person or thing acted on rather than the one who does it.
    EXAMPLE: John was presented with a bravery award yesterday.

     Verbs with two Objects

    verb can have two objects – a person and a thing. Such a verb can have two possible passive voices.
    Active: The salesman shows Nick a new computer. / The salesman shows a new computer to Nick.
    Passive: Nick is shown a new computer.
    Passive: A new computer is shown to Nick.

    Active: We lent Bob some money. / We lent some money to Bob.
    Passive: Bob was lent some money.
    Passive: Some money was lent to Bob.

          Passive Voice + Basic Modal Forms

    Basic modal forms can be used in the passive voice by combining:
    modal + to be/to have been + past participle:

    I will write
    it will be written
    I may write
    it may be written
    may have
    I may have written
    it may have been written, etc.

    We form the passive voice with the verb 'to be' and the past particle.
    The passive forms are:
    Simple present tense
    Active: She writes the letter.
    Passive: The letter is written by her. 
    Present continuous tense

    Active: She is writing the letter.
     Pasive: The letter is being written by her. 
    Present perfect tense

    Active: She has written the letter.
    Passive: The letter has been written by her. 

    Simple past tense
    Active: She wrote the letter.
    Passive: The letter was written by her. 

    Past continuous tense
    Active: She was writing the letter
    Passive: The letter was being written by her. 
    Past perfect tense
    Active: She had written the letter.
    Passive: The letter had been written by her. 
    Simple future tense
    Active: She will write the letter.
     Passive: The letter will be written by her. 
    Future perfect tense
    Active: She will have written the letter
     Passive: The letter will have been written by her.
    Active: She has to write the letter.
     Passive: The letter has to be written.
    Active: She will/may write the letter.
     Passive: The letter will/may be written.


    In negative sentences ‘not’ is used after the to be verb.
    Simple present tense:

    He does not write a letter.
    A letter is not written by him.
    past indefinite tense:
    He didn’t write a letter.
    A letter was not written by him.

    Future indefinite tense:
    He will not write a letter.
    A letter will not be written by her.

    Present continuous tense:

    He is not writing a letter.
    A letter is not being written by him.

    Past continuous tense
    He was not writing a letter.
    A letter wan not being written by him.

    Future continuous tense:
    ( Normally the passive voice of Future Continuous  Tense is not used but if a sentence is given the exams you can use it as follow:
    He will not be writing a letter.
    A letter will not be being written by him.)

    Present perfect tense:

    He has not written a letter.
    A letter has not been written by him.

    Past perfect tense:
    He had not written a letter.
    A letter had not been written by him.

    Future perfect continuous tense:
    He will have written a letter.
    A letter will not have been written by him.


    An interrogative sentence in active voice will remain interrogative in passive voice

    The following example show how the voice of  interrogative sentences is changed>

    Present indefinite tense:
    Does he write a letter?
    Is a letter written by him?

    Past indefinite tense:
    Did he write a letter?
    Was a letter written by him?

    Future indefinite tense
    Will he write a letter?
    Will a letter be written by him?

    Present continuous tense:
    Is he writing a letter?
    Is a letter being written by him?

    Past continuous tense:

    Was he writing a letter?
    Was a letter being written by him?

    Future continuous tense:
    (Normally the passive voice of Future Continuous  Tense is not used but if a sentence is given the exams you can use it as follow:

     Will he be writing a letter?
    Will a letter be being written by him?)

     Present perfect tense:
    Has he written a letter?
    Has a letter been written by him?

    Past perfect tense:
    Had he written a letter?
    Had a letter been written by him?

    Future perfect tense:
    Will he have written a letter?
    Will a letter have been written by him?


    An imperative sentence expresses an order, a request, an advice or a suggestion. The subject is hidden in the imperative sentences so the same formula for changing the voice can’t be applied.

    Active: verb+ object
    Passive: Let + object + be +past participle


    Do it.
    Let it be done.

    Open the door.
    Let the door be open.

    Don’t open the door.
    Let the door not be opened.
    Important thing about Passive Voice

    Note the following:
    • As evidenced above, in converting a sentence in active voice to a sentence in the passive voice, the object of the active voice sentence becomes the subject of the passive voice sentence.
    EXAMPLE: He drew the picture. / The picture was drawn by him.

    • Sentences in the passive voice do not make sense if the "doers" are not mentioned.
    EXAMPLE: "The match was won." ('doers' left out) as opposed to "The match was won by Liverpool"

    • transitive verb is a verb that has an object that comes after it and so can be changed into the passive voice.
    EXAMPLE: "Lee throws a ball." can be changed to "A ball is thrown by Lee".

    • An intransitive verb is a verb that does not have an object following it and so cannot be changed into the passive voice.
    EXAMPLE: Lee walks away. (INCORRECT: Lee was walked away.)

    • The passive voice is often used to evade responsibility by people or organizations.
    EXAMPLE: The report was lost by somebody. (Who is that 'somebody'?)
    EXAMPLE: All workers are encouraged to work overtime. (Encouraged by whom?)

    • Notices often use the passive voice.
    EXAMPLE: Customers are advised to leave all their belongings here.

    • An active sentence when changed to a passive sentence conveys the same meaning. The only difference is that the object in an active sentence is repositioned to become the subject in a passive sentence, and the subject in the active sentence becomes the object in the passive sentence.

    • We need to be sure of what we are saying. If we are not sure of our facts, we can exercise caution by saying: It is said that he is the culprit. / He is said to be the culprit.

    • It is possible to use 'get' instead of 'to be', especially so in our everyday conversation.
    EXAMPLE: I got cheated by the salesman. / They think he will get beaten in the race.

    Note: The present perfect continuousthe past perfect continuousthe future continuous, and the future perfect continuous tenses are not normally used in the passive voice.

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