ATTN: Intermediate and Upper-Intermediate Students
Verbs have two voices: active and passive.
In active voice sentences, the verb expresses the action in the sentence, the subject performs the action, and the object is the recipient of the action. Active sentences follow the pattern: subject-verb-object.
Jill kicked Jack.
In a passive voice sentence, the subject and object flip-flop. The subject becomes the passive recipient of the action.
Jack was kicked by Jill.
Form of Passive Voice Verbs
The passive voice requires a “double verb” and will always consist of a form of the verb “to be” and the past participle (usually the “en/ed/t” form) of another verb. Example: is kicked
Writers should be familiar with the forms of “to be” so that they can easily identify the passive voice in their work.
Review the forms of “to be”: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been
Note the forms of “to be” in the examples of the verb “to kick” in various forms of the passive voice:
is kicked – Present Simple
was kicked- Past Simple
is being kicked- Present Continuous
will be kicked – Future Simple
has been kicked- Present Perfect
can be kicked / should be kicked – Modals
is going to be kicked – Future –“going to”
was being kicked- Past Simple
had been kicked – Past Perfect
The passive is not used in the present perfect continuous, the past perfect continuous or the future continuous for reasons of style.
We can use the passive in all other tenses and in other verb forms.
Often passive voice sentences will contain a “by” phrase indicting who or what performed the action. Passive sentences can be easily transformed into active sentences when the object of the preposition “by” is moved to the subject position in the sentence.
Passive: The cookies were eaten by the children.
Active: The children ate the cookies.
Passive: The tunnels are dug by the gophers.
Active: The gophers dug the tunnels.
Choosing between Active and Passive Voice Verbs when Writing
Usually, effective writing uses the active voice and shuns the passive. Nevertheless, some situations are awkward or inappropriate when expressed in the active voice. Certainly, these situations call for the passive voice.
Reasons to use the passive voice:
1 The agent (doer) of the action is unimportant.
• The pyramids were built thousands of years ago.
2 The agent is unknown.
• Several robberies were committed during the night.
3 The agent is common knowledge, and mentioning it would be redundant.
• George Bush was elected in 2000.
4 The writer desires to control focus of sentence.
1) to de-emphasize the agent’s role in the action
The alarm was triggered by my son. [Passive construction shifts focus away from the son’s responsibility.]
2) to emphasize the party receiving the action
Jack was kicked by Jill.
The PASSIVE voice is often used in business because it makes the situation
less personal and more formal.
e.g. I will pay the invoice today (active).
The invoice will be paid today (passive)
It is also used when an action is more important than the agent, for example,
reporting the news. The demand for energy drinks has increased by 20%
We can also emphasise the agent using ‘by’ at the end of the sentence
E.G. The energy drink market is dominated by Red Bull
Reasons to use the active voice:
The active voice is shorter and more direct.
Active: The waiter dropped the tray of food.
Passive: The tray of food was dropped by the waiter.
The active voice is less awkward and clearly states relationship between subject and action.
Passive: Your request for funding has been denied by the review committee.
Active: The review committee denied your request for funding.
The active voice sentence pattern propels the reader forward through your writing thus avoiding weak prose.
Directions: Change the sentences below to the passive voice.
Children cannot open these bottles easily.
The government built a road right outside her front door.
Mr. Ross broke the antique vase as he walked through the store.
When she arrived, the changes amazed her.
The construction workers are making street repairs all month long.
The party will celebrate his retirement.
His professors were discussing his oral exam right in front of him.
My son ate all the homemade cookies.
Corrosion had damaged the hull of the ship.
Some children were visiting the old homestead while I was there.
Change the sentences below to the active voice.
The statue is being visited by hundreds of tourists every year.
My books were stolen by someone yesterday.
These books had been left in the classroom by a careless student.
Coffee is raised in many parts of Hawaii by plantation workers.
The house had been broken into by someone while the owners were on vacation.
A woman was being carried downstairs by a very strong firefighter.
The streets around the fire had been blocked off by the police.
Have you seen the new movie that was directed by Ron Howard?
My car is in the garage being fixed by a dubious mechanic.
A great deal of our oil will have been exported to other countries by our government.
7. They performed “Hamlet” at the Palladium.
8. Someone took him to hospital.
9. Nobody has used this room for years.
10. Can you do it by next Tuesday?
11.Where did they take John?
12. When will they sign the contract?
13. They found the lock broken.
14. We heard nothing about it for years.
15. Someone warned him not to swim.
16. They will employ about a hundred people.
17. Some students are going to paint the walls.
18. They have drawn up the plans of the house.
19. They spent all their money on a scruffy car.
20. They will send for a doctor.
34. What do they call this place?
22. How can we avoid such an accident?
23. Has anybody solved the problem?
24. Where are they building the new factory?
25. When did he take this photograph?
26. Someone left a note on the desk.
27. They didn’t send the telegramme.
28. Someone was repairing your car this morning.
29. Where did they see him for the last time?
Put the following into the passive voice, as in the examples.
People say that this house is haunted. This house is said to be haunted.
They found that the machine was in order. It was found that the machine was in order.
1. People know Myconos as a holiday resort.
2. People generally assume that money brings happiness.
3. People believe that he is not guilty.
4. Newspapers report that someone has tried to kill her.
5.People will assume that someone helped me to escape.
6 Someone has pointed out how important the matter is.
7. Some officers suggested that the enemy plane should be shot down.
8.Еveryone believed that the war would end soon.
9. Nobody knew that there was oil in the area.
10. Everyone hopes that she will recover soon.
11 Someone has reported that the peace talks in Geneva have been broken off.
12. People feel that there should be a new law about terrorism.
Rewrite these sentences to put them in the active voice.
a. The sugar water was relished by the hummingbirds.
b. Jogging is done by many people for exercise.
c. A standing ovation was given to the guitar player.
d. The syllabus was handed out by the professor.
Have /Get something done
To have sth done to used to express the fact that an activity is, was or will be performed by an unknown/known subject (often services). Consider these examples:
I must have my eyes tested.
I had a picture of myself painted.
I had my wallet stolen yesterday.
Note the past participle form of the verb (tested, stolen, etc.).
The meaning is exactly the same when using “get” as an auxiliary, but the version with “got” sounds more conversational; “had” a bit more formal.
3. Don’t forget to tell them to tune the piano.
4. Have you told him to take your photograph?
5. She told the police to search the house for a bomb.
6. I’ll ask him to take my measurements.
7. We’re going to ask them to put up a new aerial.
8. She is asking someone to carry the luggage for her.
9. It’s no good asking them to repair the damage.
10. Someone picked Julia’s pocket a minute ago.
11. Somebody set their house on fire.
12. Somebody stole her jewellery.