Superwava's Blog

Passive Voice

Posted on: November 18, 2011

The voice of a verb refers to the form of the verb used in relation to what the subject is doing. In English there are only two voices– passive and active.

The passive voice of a verb simply means the form of the verb used when the subject is being acted upon rather than doing something.

The passive forms of a verb are created by combining a form of the “to be verb” with the past participle of the main verb. Other helping verbs are also sometimes present: “The measure could have been killed in committee.” The passive can be used, also, in various tenses. Let’s take a look at the passive forms of “design.”

Active Voice: The committee reviewed the project.

Passive Voice: The project was reviewed by the committee.


A sentence cast in the passive voice will not always include an agent of the action. For instance if a gorilla crushes a tin can, we could say “The tin can was crushed by the gorilla.” But a perfectly good sentence would leave out the gorilla: “The tin can was crushed.” Also, when an active sentence with an indirect object is recast in the passive, the indirect object can take on the role of subject in the passive sentence:

Active Professor Villa gave Jorge an A.
Passive An A was given to Jorge by Professor Villa.
Passive Jorge was given an A.

Only transitive verbs (those that take objects) can be transformed into passive constructions. Furthermore, active sentences containing certain verbs cannot be transformed into passive structures. To have is the most important of these verbs. We can say “He has a new car,” but we cannot say “A new car is had by him.” We can say “Josefina lacked finesse,” but we cannot say “Finesse was lacked.” Here is a brief list of such verbs*:

resemble look like equal agree with
mean contain hold comprise
lack suit fit become

In most writing, use the active voice. It is more direct and less ambiguous.

The passive should be used only if the doer is unknown or unimportant, or if more emphasis is put on the receiver of the action than the doer.

Doer unknown: The Jones’ car was stolen last week.

Doer unimportant: The bells were rung to announce the wedding.

Emphasize receiver: Tony was hit by a fastball.


subject auxiliary verb (to be) main verb (past participle)
Water is drunk by everyone.
100 people are employed by this company.
I am paid in euro.
We are not paid in dollars.
Are they paid in yen?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: