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What is the passive voice in English?

Compare these active sentences and passive voice sentences:

active: The girl ate the banana.

passive: The banana was eaten by the girl.

active: Magnus will drive the Land Rover.

passive: The Land Rover will be driven by Magnus.

Identifying Subject - Verb- Direct Object

Only sentences which have a direct object can be made into passive voice sentences.

Only verbs which take a direct object can be used in passive voice sentences.

Let’s look at the sentences we saw above.

The girl ate the banana. subject=girl, verb=ate, direct object=banana

Magnus will drive the Land Rover.

subject=Magnus, verb=will drive, direct object=Land Rover

You can probably identify the verb easily.

The subject comes before (to the left of) the verb and the object comes after (to the right of) the verb.


How do you form the passive voice?

Now that you are able to identify what sentences can be made into the passive voice, you are ready to change sentences into the passive voice. Changing a sentence from the active voice to the passive voice involves three steps:

•move the direct object to the subject of the sentence

•move the subject to the end of the sentence; add the preposition "by" before it

•change the verb In the following sentence: The boy ate the apple. subject=girl, verb=ate, and direct object=banana

When we change the sentence into the passive, it becomes: The banana was eaten by the girl.

Changing the verb involves several steps:

•check the verb tense; use the verb "be" in the same tense

•change the verb into a past participle; put this verb after the form of "be"

•check that the new verb goes with the new subject  


When to use the Passive Voice

Many students are told by their English teachers that they should not use the passive voice. Teachers do this because many students use the passive voice without a clear purpose for using it. However, when the passive voice is used correctly, it is a useful and necessary verb tense in English.

There are two main reasons for using the passive voice in English:

1 The focus of the sentence is on the object rather than the subject

2 The subject of the active sentence is unknown or general.

3 Often, when a sentence is in passive voice, the "by" phrase is deleted. This is because the doer of the action is understood or unknown. The "by" phrase is only retained when the doer of the action needs to be made clear even though the focus is on the object of the action.