Passive Voice


We make the passive using ‘be’ – in a suitable tense – and the past participle (‘done’, ‘played’ etc.). We use the passive:

1) … when we don’t know, or we are not interested in, who does an action.

  • My car was stolen yesterday.

We don’t know who stole the car.

  • A lot of articles are published in this journal.

It’s not important who publishes the articles.

2) … when the main topic of the sentence isn’t who did the action.

  • The telephone was invented in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell.

The main topic here is the telephone – we aren’t particularly interested in ‘who’.

  • Kennedy was murderedin 1963.

In English we tend to put the most important thing at the beginning of the sentence.

3) … more in written English than in spoken English.

  • War and Peace was written by Tolstoy.

You often see the passive in textbooks.

  • The mixture is heated to 500?C.

Scientific texts especially use the passive.

The passive can be used with all tenses – the form of ‘be’ changes.

  •  What are the shoes made from?. Present Simple.
  •  The car is being painted this week. Present Continuous.
  •  Oranges have been grown here for centuries. Present Perfect.
  •  When he got home he found that his house had been burgled. Past Perfect.
  •  The work won’t be finished until next week. Future Simple.

Modal verbs also use ‘be’ and the past participle.

  • Answers must be written in pencil.
  • Competition entrants might be chosen to appear on TV.