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Passive

Introduction

The passive voice is most commonly used for: We use the passive voice when the object (person or thing) receiving the action is more important than the person or thing performing the action, for example: or when we do not know who or what performed the action:

Form

We make the passive voice with:
"be" + past participle of the main verb.

The present simple passive - examples:

Object Verb "be" Main verb Complement Subject
The experiment is

isn't
is not
carried out every week by scientists at the university.
The experiments are

aren't
are not
carried out every week.

Verb "be"   Object   Main verb   Complement   Subject  
Are the experiments carried out every week?

The past simple passive - examples:

Object   Verb "be"   Main verb   Complement   Subject  
The experiment was

wasn't
was not
carried out every week by scientists at the university.
The experiments were

weren't
were not
carried out every week.

Verb "be"   Object   Main verb   Complement   Subject  
Were the experiments carried out every week?

The passive voice can be used in any tense:

Object
(receives the action)  
Verb "be"
(various tenses)  
Main verb
(past participle)  
The dogs are fed.
are being
were
were being
are going to be
will be
have been
will be being
have been being
had been

In the examples above we do not know who is feeding the dogs. It is not important. What is important is that the dogs are receiving food.

If we want to include the person or thing performing the action, we can use the preposition "by":

Practice

Complete the sentences with the correct past simple passive form of the verb in brackets:

  • The Eiffel Tower in 1889. (build)
     
  • Two World Wars during the 20th century. (fight)
     
  • How many sonnets by William Shakespeare? (write)
     
  • The internet by many different people. (create)
     

Further practice



Check my answers

Further language points

We can employ the passive voice when we do not want to say who or what performed the action:
Modal verbs can be used in the passive voice:

Present

Active – The staff should make the beds every day.
Passive – The beds should be made every day.

Past
Active – The staff should have made the beds every day.
Passive – The beds should have been made every day.

Advanced language point

Further examples of the passive voice:

Whilst grammatically correct, the perfect continuous tenses are not usually used in the passive voice. The situation does not usually arise and they sound rather awkward.

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