PASSIVE VOICES

Use of Passive

Passive voice is used when the focus is on the action. It is not important or not known, however, who or what is performing the action.

Example: My bike was stolen.

Example: A mistake was made.

Form of Passive

Subject + finite form of to be + Past Participle (3rd column of irregular verbs)

Example: A letter was written.

When rewriting active sentences in passive voice, note the following:

  • the object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence
  • the finite form of the verb is changed (to be + past participle)
  • the subject of the active sentence becomes the object of the passive sentence (or is dropped)

Examples of Passive Level: lower intermediate

Tense Subject Verb Object
Simple Present Active: Rita writes a letter.
Passive: A letter is written by Rita.
Simple Past Active: Rita wrote a letter.
Passive: A letter was written by Rita.
Present Perfect Active: Rita has written a letter.
Passive: A letter has been written by Rita.
Future I Active: Rita will write a letter.
Passive: A letter will be written by Rita.
Hilfsverben Active: Rita can write a letter.
Passive: A letter can be written by Rita.

Examples of Passive Level: upper intermediate

Tense Subject Verb Object
Present Progressive Active: Rita is writing a letter.
Passive: A letter is being written by Rita.
Past Progressive Active: Rita was writing a letter.
Passive: A letter was being written by Rita.
Past Perfect Active: Rita had written a letter.
Passive: A letter had been written by Rita.
Future II Active: Rita will have written a letter.
Passive: A letter will have been written by Rita.
Conditional I Active: Rita would write a letter.
Passive: A letter would be written by Rita.
Conditional II Active: Rita would have written a letter.
Passive: A letter would have been written by Rita.

Personal and Impersonal Passive

Personal Passive simply means that the object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence. So every verb that needs an object (transitive verb) can form a personal passive.

Example: They build houses. – Houses are built.

Verbs without an object (intransitive verb) normally cannot form a personal passive sentence (as there is no object that can become the subject of the passive sentence). If you want to use an intransitive verb in passive voice, you need an impersonal construction – therefore this passive is called Impersonal Passive.

Example: he says – it is said

Impersonal Passive is not as common in English as in some other languages (e.g. German, Latin). In English, Impersonal Passive is only possible with verbs of perception (e. g. say, think, know).

Example: They say that women live longer than men. – It is said that women live longer than men.

Although Impersonal Passive is possible here, Personal Passive is more common.

Example: They say that women live longer than men. – Women are said to live longer than men.

The subject of the subordinate clause (women) goes to the beginning of the sentence; the verb of perception is put into passive voice. The rest of the sentence is added using an infinitive construction with ‘to’ (certain auxiliary verbs and that are dropped).

Sometimes the term Personal Passive is used in English lessons if the indirect object of an active sentence is to become the subject of the passive sentence.

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