In this post you will learn when and how to use passive voice in different situations and tenses. One example for each. Concise and precise!

Table of Contents


–In active sentences, the thing doing the action is the subject of the sentence and the thing receiving the action is the object. Most sentences are active.

–[Thing doing action] + [verb] + [thing receiving action]

–In passive sentences, the thing receiving the action is the subject of the sentence and the thing doing the action is optionally included near the end of the sentence. You can use the passive form if you think that the thing receiving the action is more important or should be emphasized. You can also use the passive form if you do not know who is doing the action or if you do not want to mention who is doing the action.

–[Thing receiving action] + [be] + [past participle of verb] + [by] + [thing doing action

When should we use the Passive?

When we want to change the focus of the sentence:

Active: Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa. (We are more interested in the artist in this sentence.)
Passive: The Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci. (We are more interested in the painting than the artist in this sentence)

When who or what causes the action is unknown or unimportant or obvious or ‘people in general’:

My bike has been stolen (unknown agent).

He was arrested (obvious agent, the police).

The road is being repaired (unimportant agent).

The form can be obtained from the post office (people in general).

In factual or scientific writing:

The chemical is placed in a test tube and the data entered into the computer.

In formal writing instead of using someone/ people/ they

 (these can be used in speaking or informal writing):

The brochure will be finished next month.

In order to put the new information at the end of the sentence to improve style:

Three books are used regularly in the class. The books were written by Dr. Bell.

(‘Dr. Bell wrote the books’ sounds clumsy)

When the subject is very long:

I was surprised by how well the students did in the test.

 (More natural than: ‘how well the students did in the test surprised me’)

Simple Present

Object + am/is/are + Verb 3

Active: Germany produces B.M.W cars.

Passive: B.M.W cars are produced in Germany.

Present Continuous

Object + am/is/are + being + Verb 3

Active: My mom is making salad now.

Passive: Salad is being by my mom now.

Simple Past

Object + was/ were + Verb 3

Active: Marconi invented the radio in 1890s.

Passive: The radio was invented by Marconi in 1890s.

Past Continuous

Object + was/ were + being + Verb 3

Active: While they were decorating the Christmas tree, suddenly it fell over.

Passive: While the Christmas tree was being decorated, suddenly it fell over.

Present Perfect

Object + has/ have + been + Verb 3

Active: They have recently built a mall in this area.

Passive: A mall has recently been built in this area.

Past Perfect

Object + had + been + Verb 3

Active: The chef had marinated the chickens before he grilled them.

Passive: The chickens had been marinated before they were grilled.

Future “will”

Object + will + be + Verb 3

Active: People will use flying cars to commute from place to place in 50 years.

Passive: Flying cars will be used by people to commute from place to place in 50 years.

Future “going to”

Object + am/is/are + going to be + Verb 3

Active: City hall is going to demolish that old building next week.

Passive: That old building is going to be demolished by city hall next week.

Modal Verbs: can, could, may, might, will, would, shall, should, and must

Object + Modal Verb + be + Verb 3

Active: You should sell your car.

Passive: Your car should be sold.

More Examples

Simple present: The letters are always written by the secretary.

Present continuous: The letter is being written now.

Simple past: The letter was written yesterday.

Past continuous: While the letter was being written, suddenly the electricity was cut off.

Present perfect: The letter has been written and it is ready.

Past perfect: The letter had been written before the boss arrived.

Future(prediction): I guess the letter will be written tomorrow.

Future(Plan): The letters are going to be written tomorrow.

Passive voice with infinitive

The infinitive passive voice is used after modal verbs and other most verbs normally followed by an infinitive.

–You have to be tested on your English grammar.

–She wants to be invited to the party.

–I expect to be surprised on my birthday.

Passive voice with gerund

–I remember being taught to drive.

–The children are excited about being taken to the zoo.

–Most film stars hate being interviewed.

–Poodles like being pampered.

Using “to be born”

I was born in 1978.

Where were you born?

Around 100 babies are born in this hospital every week.

We don’t know on exactly which day the baby will be born.

Verbs with 2 objects

Some verbs that have two objects can make two different active sentences, and so two different passive sentences too:


–Active: He gave me the book / He gave the book to me.

–You can choose either of the two objects to be the subject of the passive sentence. Passive: I was given the book (by him)/ The book was given to me (by him).

–Other verbs like this are: ask, offer, teach, tell, lend, promise, sell, throw

Prepositions in Passive Sentences

Active: Someone broke into the pet shop.

Passive: The pet shop was broken into.

Active: They looked for the baby.

Passive: The baby was looked for.

Active: Someone shouts at the man.

Passive: The man is shouted at.

Active or Passive?

 Titanic sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912 after striking an iceberg. Active

This huge ship struck an ice berg off the coast of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic Ocean. Active

Out of 2240, 1500 passengers and crew members were killed. Passive

Only a few people, most of whom were elites survived. Active

705 passengers were recued by Carpathia. Passive

Lots of books and movies have been inspired by this event. Passive

800 artifacts were discovered in this shipwreck. Passive


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *