Passive Voice

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It's important to use the passive voice to place the focus on the object of an action, rather than on the person doing that action. English students should learn how to use the passive voice for explaining processes and for business situations. Here are some examples:

Somebody made my car in Detroit. -> My car was made in Detroit.
Somebody painted this beautiful picture. -> This picture was painted by George Smith.
A number of people in company ZYZ have designed this recorder. -> This recorder was designed by the ZYZ Company.

Study the passive voice below and then practice your writing skills by changing active sentences to passive sentences. Teachers can use this lesson plan on recognizing the differences between active and passive sentences.

Passive Voice Grammar Tips

The passive voice is used when focusing on the person or thing affected by an action. Generally speaking, the passive voice is used less frequently than the active voice. However, the passive voice is useful to switch the focus from who is doing something to what is being done. This can be especially useful in business settings. 

Passive Sentence Structure

Passive Subject + To Be + Past Particple

Note that the verb 'be' is conjugated followed by the participle form of the main verb.  

The house was built in 1989.
My friend is being interviewed today.
The project has been completed recently. 

The passive voice is used in business when the object of the action is more important than those who perform the action.

Here are some example sentences that a business might change to the passive form in order to change focus:

We have produced over 20 different models in the past two years. -> Over 20 different models have been produced in the past two years.

My colleagues and I develop software for financial institutions. -> Our software is developed for financial institutions. 

Using the Agent 

The person or people taking an action are referred to as the agent. If the agent (the person or people performing an action) is not important for understanding, drop the agent. Here are some examples:

Our luxury coupe is manufactured in Germany. 
The test will be given at four o'clock. 

If the agent is important, use "by" followed by the person or people who perform the action.  This use is common when speaking about artworks, books, or other creative endeavors. 

"The Flight to Brunnswick" was written in 1987 by Tim Wilson.
This model was developed by Stan Ishly for our production team. 

Passive Used with Transitive Verbs

Transitive verbs are verbs that can take an object. Here are some examples:

We assembled the car in less than two hours. 
I wrote the report last week. 

Intransitive verbs do not take an object:

She arrived early.
Th accident happened last week. 

Only verbs that take an object can be used in the passive voice. In other words, the passive voice is used only with transitive verbs. 

We assembled the car in less than two hours. -> The car was assembled in less than two hours.
I wrote the report last week. -> The report was written last week. 

Passive Voice Structure

Here are examples of some of the most common tenses used in the passive voice:

Active VoicePassive VoiceVerb Tense
They make Fords in Cologne.Fords are made in Cologne.

Present Simple

Susan is cooking dinner.Dinner is being cooked by Susan

Present Continuous

James Joyce wrote "Dubliners"."Dubliners" was written by James Joyce.

Past Simple

They were painting the house when I arrived.The house was being painted when I arrived.

Past Continuous

They have produced over 20 models in the past two years.Over 20 models have been produced in the past two years.

Present Perfect

They are going to build a new factory in Portland.A new factory is going to be built in Portland.

Future Intention with Going to

I will finish it tomorrow.It will be finished tomorrow.

Future Simple

Passive Voice Quiz 

Conjugate the verbs in parentheses in the passive voice. Pay close attention to the time expressions for clues on tense usage:

  1. Our house ______________ (paint) brown and black last week.
  2. The project ______________ (complete) next week by our outstanding marketing department. 
  3. The plans for the new contract __________________ (draw up) right now. 
  4. More than 30,000 new computers _________________ (manufacture) every day at our plant in China. 
  5. The children ________________ (teach) by Ms Anderson since last year.
  6. The piece ________________ (write) by Mozart when he was only six years old.
  7. My hair ______________ (cut) by Julie every month.
  8. The portrait _______________ (paint) by a famous painter, but I'm not sure when. 
  9. The cruise ship ______________ (christen) by Queen Elizabeth in 1987.
  10. My paper ______________ (deliver) every morning by a teenager on his bike.

Answers:

  1. was painted
  2. will be completed / is going to be completed 
  3. are being drawn up
  4. are manufactured
  5. have been taught
  6. was written
  7. is cut
  8. will be painted 
  9. was christened
  10. is delivered 
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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Passive Voice." ThoughtCo, Jul. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/passive-voice-in-english-grammar-1211144. Beare, Kenneth. (2017, July 13). Passive Voice. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/passive-voice-in-english-grammar-1211144 Beare, Kenneth. "Passive Voice." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/passive-voice-in-english-grammar-1211144 (accessed October 22, 2017).