Passive Voice

English Grammar Rules

The Passive Voice is used in English when the person or thing that is receiving the action is more important than the person or thing that is performing the action.

The structure of a sentence in the passive is as follows:

Object + To Be + Past Participle

Look at the structure of the following sentences in the active and the passive voice to understand the difference in structure.

  • I sent Christmas cards to all my friends. (Active)
  • Christmas cards were sent to all my friends. (Passive)
  • The earthquake destroyed the town last night. (Active)
  • The town was destroyed last night. (Passive)

In these examples, you can see it is the action / result that is the most important factor in the passive sentences.

When to use the Passive Voice

1. It is used when the person/thing performing the action is unimportant or unknown.
e.g. Our car was stolen last night.

2. It is used when it is obvious who/what is performing the action.
e.g. Cameron was sacked last week.

3. It is used to describe factual information, especially when describing a process.
e.g. The lasagna is baked in an oven for 35 minutes at 250 degrees Celsius.

4. It is used in news reports and to give instructions.
e.g. Five people were arrested at a nightclub last night.

While it is possible to use this structure in a large variety of tenses in English, it is rare to use the passive in Future Continuous, Present Perfect Continuous, Past Perfect Continuous or Future Perfect Continuous tenses.

Below are examples of the passive in a range of verb tenses.

To Be Past Participle Tense
The butter is kept here. Present Simple
The window was broken. Past Simple
The work will be done soon. Future Simple
The bridge is being repaired. Present Continuous
The cheese was being eaten by mice. Past Continuous
Our work has been finished. Present Perfect
The car hadn't been used much. Past Perfect
The house will have been built by then. Future Perfect
The shelf can't be reached. Modal Verb
The task must be done now. Modal Verb
The lesson may be finished. Modal Verb
The car ought to be repaired. Modal Verb

Next activity

Try our interactive game to practice the Passive Voice: Passive Voice Game

See our notes about Past Participles.

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Last Updated: 02 December 2014
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