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Getting Smarter through Language

The Passive Voice. Page 1 (Advanced, C-Level)

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In this lesson, you will learn about the passive voice. You will learn how to build it, what it is used for, and when you should avoid it.

You will also learn how to use “get” to create the passive voice.


Finally, you will learn some special uses of the passive voice in expressions such as “it is widely known,” “it has been said,” “it is believed,” and so on.

The Structure of the Passive Voice

How It Works

The passive voice is formed by using the verb "to be" in the correct tense followed by the past participle of the main verb, for example

to be baked

to be caught

to be done

to be given

to be persuaded

to be read

to be spoken

to be questioned

The subject of the passive sentence is the receiver of the action, not the doer. The doer is shown by using the preposition “by;” however, the doer can be left out if it is unknown or understood from the context.

Example sentences in the passive voice
Known doer (by someone)

This book was written by Ernest Hemingway.
Hemingway did the writing.

The exams must have been graded by the professor by now.
The professor must have done the grading.

The cake is being baked by my grandmother.
My grandmother is doing the baking.

Unknown or unimportant doer (no by-phrase)

The results will be announced tomorrow.
Someone will be doing the announcing.

The window was broken during the storm.
Who or what did the breaking is unknown or unimportant, so it is left out.

My friend’s house was built almost a hundred years ago.
Who did the building of the house is unknown or unimportant.

Changing from Active to Passive

To change an active sentence to a passive sentence, you need to make the object of the active sentence the subject of the passive sentence and use the appropriate form of the verb "to be" along with the past participle of the main verb. The verb tense in the active voice is identical to the verb tense of “be” in the passive.

From active to passive

The present simple becomes the present simple of “be.”

Active: Acme Company sponsors our show.

Passive: Our show is sponsored by Acme Company.

The past simple becomes the past simple of “be.”

Active: The professor yelled at the student.

Passive: The student was yelled at by the professor.

The present continuous becomes the present continuous of “be.”

Active: They are making progress.

Passive: Progress is being made (by them).

Active: Someone has replaced our computers.

Passive: Our computers have been replaced (by someone).

Could + have becomes could + have + “be."

Active: You could have avoided the problem.

Passive: The problem could have been avoided (by you).

From Active with Two Objects to Passive

Verbs with both a direct and indirect object in the active voice allows you to choose either object for the passive. The choice depends on which object you want to emphasize in the passive. The subject in the passive voice becomes the focus of attention.

From active with two objects to passive

Active: They will give snacks to the children.

Passive: Snacks will be given to the children.

Passive: The children will be given snacks.

Active: The teacher has assigned no homework to the students.

Passive: No homework has been assigned to the students (by the teacher).

Passive: The students have been assigned no homework (by the teacher).

Passive: The students have not been assigned any homework (by the teacher).

Active: I sent you an email with the information.

Passive: An email with the information was sent to us (by me).

Passive: You were sent an email with the information (by me).

Using “by me” in the above passive voice sentences sounds very unnatural.

Using the Passive Voice

The passive voice is often used when the doer of the action is unknown, unimportant, or obvious from the context. It is also used to emphasize the action itself rather than the doer.

When to Use the Passive Voice

Unknown doer

The window was broken.

The house was broken into last night.

John’s house has just been repainted.

Focus on the action

A new study is being conducted.

Several houses were destroyed during the storm.

A new hospital is being built in the city.

This door should be locked after 6 p.m.

Obvious or unimportant doer

Your assignments have been graded.

All your questions will be answered by the end of the presentation.

Many mistakes were made during the project.

The passive voice should be avoided when it makes the sentence awkward or unclear. It is generally better to use the active voice for direct and concise communication.

As a rule of thumb, if the active voice communicates who doer what to whom, use it. If it makes sense to leave out the doer, use the passive voice.

When to Avoid the Passive Voice

Passive: The cake was eaten by me.

Active: I ate the cake.

There is no reason to use the passive voice. The subject of the active voice (I) is clear, and there is no reason to focus on the cake instead of focusing on who ate it.

Passive: John was thanked by his boss.

Active: John’s boss thanked him.

It is clear who did what in the active voice. The passive voice only makes the sentence convoluted.

Passive: The secret was told to me by her.

Active: She told me the secret.

The passive voice sentence is extremely awkward and even difficult to understand.


A more acceptable passive voice, which puts emphasis on the subject, would be, “I was told the secret.” This sentence also leaves out “by her,” which means I do not want you to know who told me the secret.

Passive: John was congratulated by his coworkers on his promotion.

Active: John’s coworkers congratulated him on his promotion.

There is no justification for expressing this in the passive voice. Usually, people congratulate others on something. Keep it direct and simple by using the active voice.

Up Next: Special Uses of the Passive Voice

Continue the lesson to learn more complex uses of the passive voice.