7. Passives

Passive sentences

In English, most sentences are in the active or passive voice.

In an active sentence, the person or thing which is responsible for the action comes first in the sentence.

In a passive sentence, the person or thing is now the object of the sentence, and something happens to that object. The actor can be added at the end, introduced with the help of using the preposition “by.” In a passive sentence, we sometimes omit the actor.

How do I form the passive?

The passive voice will always use the verb “to be“. This verb will tell us what tense the sentence is in. See these examples:

The computer is used every day. (Present simple)

The computer was used every day last year. (Past simple)

The computer will be used every day. (Future simple)

The computer would be used every day. (Conditional tense)

The computer has been used every day. (Present perfect)

The computer had been used every day. (Past perfect)

When do I use passive voice?

Passive voice is used in many ways, but here are some specific conditions: 

1.When the actor is unknown or irrelevant:

The paintings in the Lasco cave were created in the Upper Paleolithic. (We do not know who did it).

An electrical power plant is going to be built in the Mojave desert. (It doesn’t matter who is doing it).

My phone was stolen yesterday.

2. In more formal writings:

The climate crisis is not being taken seriously – (passive – better for writing exams)

People are not taking the climate crisis seriously – (active – maybe more common in spoken English)

3. Expressing rules in a more polite way

 Food cannot be eaten in this area

4. You want to highlight the person or thing you are acting on. For example, this could be your main topic:

Insulin was first discovered by researchers at the University of Toronto. It is believed to be the only way to treat diabetes.

5. The passive voice is often preferred in scientific researches and for laboratory reports:  

  Sodium hydroxide is dissolved in water. This solution is then diluted with hydrochloric acid. 

6. Expressing impersonal ideas:

It is said that…. (people have said that)

It is believed that… (people believe that)

It is thought to be… (people think it is….)