The Passive Voice. Free English Lesson with Test and Certificate.

Quick Passive Voice study for SAT, IELTS, TESOL and other exams.

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How to use the Passive Voice in English

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Suzy says:


Most sentences are in the 'active' voice. For example, "the cat CHASES the mice." But there is also a 'passive voice'. For example, "the mice are CHASED BY the cat." This test is used to assess your understanding of the passive voice.

One nice use of the passive voice is to be more polite. For example, an active phrase is, "James did not finish his part of the research project," ... but a passive phrase could be, "the research project was not finished on time."


Your English lesson about the passive voice


Welcome to the Passive Voice lesson! In this lesson, we will cover many of the uses of the passive voice. 
First of all, most sentences are active. With these active sentences, the subject is performing an action and the object is receiving the action.
The cat chases the mice.
Bill brushes his teeth every morning.

As you can see, the structure for active sentences is:
[subject (doing the action) + verb + object (receiving the action)]
However, with the passive voice, the thing receiving the action is the subject. The structure is:
[thing receiving action + [verb to be] + past participle of verb + by + thing doing action]
The mice are chased by the cats.
His teeth are brushed every morning.

Notice that in the second sentence we dropped “by Bill”. It isn’t necessary to mention Bill by name because it is very unlikely that he will brush someone else’s teeth. Here’s another example.

The vase got broken by me.
The vase got broken.

In the above example, it sounds better if you just say, “The vase got broken.”
When rewriting active sentences in passive voice, note the following:
*The object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence.
*The 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).
Here are a few more examples. First the active sentences.
He walks the dog.
She eats the pizza.

Now, let’s make these sentences passive.
The dog is walked by him.
The pizza is eaten by her.

When we use the passive voice we are saying the same thing, but the object is placed first in the sentence. This gives the object more emphasis or importance in the sentence.
Imagine a student talking to her parents. She might say something like this:
I did a great job! I got a high score on my English test!
When you are proud, you want to emphasize “I”. I got a high score. 

But, when you do something wrong, or make a mistake you might use the passive voice:
You might say, “The vase got broken” instead of “I broke the vase.”

As you can see from this example, one of the common uses of the passive voice is when we want to try to hide the subject doing the action. This can also be used if you want to be polite. Maybe you don’t want to call attention to another person’s mistake.

James failed to finish his part of the research project.
The research project wasn’t finished on time.

We can change this to the passive voice so that we are not blaming James:

With the second sentence, we are not blaming James specifically for the unfinished project. If we use the first sentence, James may feel embarrassed and angry that you are blaming him for the lateness.
Now, have a look at these passive examples:
The car was just washed.
The food is being delivered.

Here, we just don’t know who is doing the action, so the passive voice helps us say that something happens without needing to say by whom.
Sometimes the passive voice is also used when we’re speaking or writing informally because passive sentences are shorter and easier to say or write than ones that also include the subjects performing the actions. For example:

Our class will be held at 2:30. 
This sentence is much shorter and sounds better than:
The teacher will hold our class at 2:30.”

In addition, you will often see the passive voice in scientific writing. This puts the focus is on the method or action being performed in the experiment instead of the person doing it.  Here’s two passive examples:
The sample is observed under a microscope.
The data are recorded and plotted on a graph.


In other situations, the subject isn’t specified because it’s not important who’s doing the action. Use the passive voice when the action is more important than who’s doing it.
The package was sent yesterday.
The roof was fixed last week.


We often use the passive voice when the subject doing the action is obvious or understood. Here, we know (or can guess) who’s doing the action, so there’s no need to actually say it. We saw this earlier with Bill brushing his teeth, but here are a few more examples:
The concert was enjoyed.
The assignment will be finished tomorrow.


The passive voice is also sometimes used when some general group, and not a single subject, is performing the action.
The final test will be taken by the students.
The end of term grades will be received by the parents in two weeks.


More passive voice exercises

Now, let’s look at some more complicated uses of the passive voice.
First, you can combine additional verbs, or modal verbs like “could” or “should,” with the passive voice to make more complex sentences:
He should be praised for his hard work.
We could be tested on chemistry this week.
The student may be disappointed when he discovers that he didn’t pass his test.


You can also use the passive voice to describe how you feel about receiving some action. Both kinds of sentences in the following examples are fine for writing and speaking:
I’m excited about being taken to see the football game.
Everyone loves to be complimented.


Similarly, you can talk about an action that needs to be performed. We use the passive voice in these situations because the object requiring the action is more important than the person who will perform it:
The wall needs painting.
The flowers need to be watered.
The research paper needs to be finished.


Finally, you can use have and get with the passive voice to describe someone or something else doing something to or for you. For example, like when you hire someone to perform a service.
She’s getting a massage right now.
Should I get my car fixed, or just buy a new one?
We had dinner delivered because I didn’t feel like cooking.


It’s story time
Now that we’ve learned a lot about the passive voice, let’s see how this is used in a short story.  As you read the following story, pay attention to how the passive voice is used.
The party was a disaster. The wrong time was written on the invitations. We wanted the party to begin at 6:00 and end at 8:00, but only 8:00 was listed on the invitations. It could be said that late is better than never, but your mind might be changed after you hear this story.
The food was delivered on time. There were no guests to eat the food. The DJ arrived on time. There were no guests to dance. Panic was starting to be felt by our entire family. As you can imagine, the food became cold and the DJ was playing songs for an empty dance floor. Actually, I almost forgot, the dance floor was occupied by my Uncle Henry. Wine was being drunk by him even though the guests hadn’t arrived.
After we realized what had happened, the DJ needed to be negotiated with. Of course, he had planned to play from 6:00 to 8:00, but the guests would just be arriving at 8:00. An agreement was made, and he took a break and ate some food while he waited for the guests.
Finally, the guests started to arrive. Unfortunately, the cold food wasn’t eaten by anyone. Wine was sipped by the DJ and his new friend my Uncle Henry during the wait, so the DJ wasn’t as skillful as he was before the guests arrived. So, even after the guests arrived, the only dancing was being done by Uncle Henry.
Most of the guests weren’t told what happened. They must have wondered why the DJ looked so tired, why my Uncle Henry was dancing so much. They must have been really confused about the cold food.

That’s the end of the lesson on the passive voice.

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