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Using the active and passive voice

Using the active and passive voice

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Summary

Using the active and passive voice

​​In a nutshell

You can write more diverse sentences if you know how to use the active and passive voice. In this summary, you will learn how to use the active and passive voice, how to turn an active sentence into a passive one as well as some reasons to use the passive voice.



The active voice

Active voice is another way of saying that a sentence is in the normal word order. Sentences in the active voice are clear and direct and the subject is the one doing the action.

  1. Start with the subject (doer of the verb).
  2. Write the verb (the action).
  3. After the verb, there might be an object (thing/person to which the verb is done to).

Example


S

​V

O

The thief
stole
valuable items



The passive voice

In a passive sentence, the object comes first and receives the action of the verb. To understand how to change this word order, follow these simple steps:


(1) Start by labelling the subject (S), verb (V) and object (O) of the sentence.


S

V

O

The thief
stole
valuable items.


(2) Swap the order of the subject and the object.

English; Grammar and punctuation; KS4 Year 10; Using the active and passive voice
Valuable items
the thief.


(3) Now you have the verb. You cannot just write the verb in the same form, otherwise it will look something like this:


O
V
S
Valuable items
stole
the thief. 


The meaning of the sentence changed. Remember, you still want to say that the valuable items were stolen. You need to change the form of the verb to the passive voice to keep this meaning.


Here's how to change the verb into the passive voice:

the verb TO BE
(in the tense you need)
past participle (main verb)
← this is the form of
the verb we use for the
"have + verb" form, e.g. 
He has stolen


were
stolen


​​(4) Now that the original subject is at the end of the sentence, you need to add the word "by" to show who is responsible. 


O (new subject)

V

S

Valuable items
were stolen
by the thief. 


Tip: You can also leave out the subject altogether. This can be useful if you don't know who/what the subject is.


Example

O (new subject)

V

Valuable items
were stolen.


Note: Although the passive voice can be useful, it can cause confusion. In the example given, you don't know who stole the valuable items, which is expected, but if you do know the subject, it would be clearer to write in the active voice.



Reasons to use the passive voice

Now that you understand how to formulate a sentence in the passive voice, it's necessary to also understand why the passive voice is used at all.


To show interest in the person or object that experiences an action rather than the performer of the action

In the following example, 'the Palace of Versailles' is of interest, rather than who built it.


Example

The Palace of Versailles was built in the 1600's.


You do not know or do not want to know who performed the action

In the following example, the subject does not know who broke the windows.


Example

The windows had been broken.


To stay/appear objective, scientific, technical or logical

The passive voice can also create a sense of distance between the reader and what's being said. This is more common when using a more technical and factual explanation. 


Example

The chemical is placed in a test tube and then sent to the lab. 


You are talking about a general truth

In this case, the truth applies to people in general and not to a specific subject.


Example

Practice makes perfect. 



The passive voice in different tenses

The passive voice can be used in different tenses and it's important to know how to change the 'to be' form of the verb when doing so. Take a look at the following table with examples of passive sentences written in different tenses.


tense

active voice

passive voice

Present simple
They take the photos.
The photos are taken (by them).
Present continuous
They are taking the photos.
The photos are being taken (by them).
Present perfect
They have taken the photos.
The photos have been taken (by them).
Past simple
They took the photos.
The photos were taken (by them).
Past continuous
They were taking the photos.
The photos were being taken (by them).
Past perfect
They had taken the photos.
The photos had been taken (by them).
Future simple (will)
They will take the photos.
The photos will be taken (by them).
Future simple (going to)
They are going to take the photos.
The photos are going to be taken (by them).
Future perfect
They will have taken the photos.
The photos will have been taken (by them).


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FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between active and passive voice?

What does passive voice mean?

What does active voice mean?

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