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Why do we use the passive voice?

Are you struggling to use the passive voice when speaking or writing in English?  In this English grammar lesson, we will look at the passive voice.  Specifically, why do we use the passive voice in English? 

In previous posts, we have learned about the passive voice, that being the basics of the passive voice in English.  In this lesson, we will go into details, through examples, so that you can see why we use the passive voice so that you can use the passive voice when speaking or writing in English!

As we’ve said, passive voice in English is used when the focus is on the action. It is not important or not known, however, who or what is performing the action.

Let’s compare the two sentences:

The professor teaches the students.

Students are taught by the professor.

In passive sentences, the object receiving the action is the subject of the sentence and the person doing the action is optionally included near the end of the sentence. So, the object of the active sentence (the students) becomes the subject of a passive sentence. The item receiving the action is the most important in a passive sentence.

The car was repaired by Sam.

In a passive sentence, the person doing the action, the subject (the agent) is not important. If we want to include the agent in the sentence, we use a by phrase. However, the sentence functions on its own without the by phrase too: The car was repaired. The needed information is the fact that is was repaired, but not also by whom.

A mistake was made.

In this example, there is a phrase – no agent. We sometimes don’t know who did the action, and that is often the case when we use the passive voice. A sentence is completely valid, we have a subject (a mistake) and a verb (was made).

The game is played.

A passive verb has a form of be (is) and a passive participle (played). Be is in the same tense as the equivalent active form (They play the game).

Let’s look at different tenses and the shift from active to passive:

Present simple:

They play the game.

The game is played.

Present continuous:

They are playing the game.

The game is being played.

Present perfect:

They have played the game.

The game has been played.

Past simple:

They played the game.

The game was played.

Past continuous:

They were playing the game.

The game was being played.

Past perfect

They had played the game.

The game had been played.

Future

They will play the game.

The game will be played.

In all of these examples, we see the form already mentioned: we need to use be in the according to tense + passive participle.

Motorists are not killed by cyclists.

The money still hasn’t been found.

We use the auxiliary verb in the same way as we do in active sentences. In the negative not comes after the first auxiliary.

Has the money been found?

In a question, there is an inversion of the subject and the (first) auxiliary.

In this lesson, you’ve learned why and how we use passive voice in English.

In order to make sure that you understood passive voice,
rewrite these active sentences in passive in the comments below:

Jack is cleaning a house.
They still didn’t find her daughter.
They have been watching the game.
I will check your answers tomorrow.
He used a pencil.
I was looking for a book.
They are using her abilities.

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