The Passive Voice: Overview

Passive Voice is used when the speaker wants to focus not on the subject but on the action itself and the object receiving this action.

Compare the sentences:

  • Millions of people play mobile games every day (focus on “millions of people”).
  • Mobile games are played by millions of people every day (focus on “mobile games are played”).
  • Butter is made from milk.
  • The telephone was invented by Alexander Bell.

When transforming active voice into passive voice, the subject and the object of the sentence change places. Often, the preposition ‘by‘ is added before the subject. Look at this picture:

On the left (active voice):
– the subject of the sentence performs the action;
– the person/thing performing the action is named before the verb.

On the right (passive voice):
– the action is performed on the subject, the subject receives the action;
– the object acted upon is named before the verb.

How to form Passive Voice

Positive statements with passive constructions are built using various forms of the verb ‘be’ (is, are, were, etc.) + the Past Participle form of the verb:

  • The office is cleaned every day.
  • I was born in 1980.
  • These castles were built by our ancestors.

Negative statements in Passive Voice

To make negative statements with passive constructions, use:

subject + form of ‘be’ + not + Past Participle

Note: For regular verbs, this is the “-ed” form of the verb. For the list of Past Participle forms of irregular verbs see our article on irregular verbs.
  • I wasn’t offered any job.
  • That bird isn’t usually seen in our region.
  • They weren’t invited to the party last Saturday.

Questions in Passive Voice

To make questions with passive constructions, use:

(Question word) + form of ‘be’ + subject + Past Participle

  • Where were you born?
  • Was anybody injured in the accident?
  • Were you paid when you finished your work?

When to use Passive Voice

We use the Passive Voice when:

  • We do not know who did the action = ‘The window was broken.’ (we don’t know who broke it).
  • It is not important who did the action = ‘Lunch is served at 2 pm.’ (it is not important who serves lunch).
  • It is obvious who did the action = ‘Wheat is grown in this field.’ (obviously, farmers grow the wheat).
  • The object receiving the action or the action itself is more important than the doer of the action = ‘The box was carried by the woman‘. (the focus is on the box).

In this video from mmmEnglish, you’ll find the explanation and many examples of passive constructions:

See also:

Present Simple Passive

Past Simple Passive

Present Perfect Passive

Leave a Comment