Grammar: Introduction to The Passive Voice

Introduction to passives

What is Active Voice?

The active voice is when the subject performs the action or experiences the state. The passive voice is when the action happens to the subject. Only transitive verbs (verbs that take an object) can be used in the passive. Some verbs e.g. to be born are normally only used in the passive. The passive is formed by the appropriate tense or aspect of the verb ‘to be’ + past participle. 

For example:
He designs cars. Active Voice
Cars are designed (by him). Passive Voice

Always remember that Intransitive Verbs are never used in the passive voice.
The girl has been died in the hospital” is a wrong sentence because ‘Die’  is an Intransitive Verb.

The correct sentence is, ‘The girl has died in the hospital’. Thus, option B is correct in the above example.

Other examples of Intransitive Verbs are as under:

This has happened a million times.
This has been happened a million times.
The book belonged to me.
The book is belonged to me.
He became a doctor.
He was become a doctor.

The most important passive verb forms are as under.

Past forms from Active to Passive

kill – was,were killed
was/were killing – was,were being killed
had killed – had been killed
had been killing – had been being killed

Present forms from Active to Passive

kills/Kill – is,are,am killed
is/are/am killing – is,are,am being killed
has/have killed – has, have been killed
has, have been killing – has, have been being killed

Future forms from Active to Passive

will killed – will be killed
will be killing – will be being killed
will have killed – will have been killed
will have been killing – will have been being killed

By in the Passive

You don’t need to use ‘By’ in the passive. You can make many good Passive Sentences without using ‘By’. ‘By’ only shows ‘Agent = the person who does something in the passive sentence’. Look at the following examples:

1. The gases are heated over a burner. (Passive without ‘BY’)
2. He was arrested. (Passive without ‘BY’)
3. The world is believed to be round. (Passive without ‘BY’)
4. My bicycle has been moved. (Passive without ‘BY’)
5. He arrived and was greeted by the mayor. (Passive without ‘BY’)
6. The window was broken by the thief. (Passive without ‘BY’)
7. The book has been written by me. (Passive without ‘BY’)

Look, how strange our writing and speaking become if we use ‘By’ in every passive sentence.

The room was entered by Dr Wheeler, at which point words of advice regarding active verbs were spoken by him. It was decided by the rebellious class that the final paper of the semester would be written entirely in passive voice. Remarks were made by a distraught Wheeler; protests were made by the students. A seat was gotten out of by one student. His desk was stood upon by him, and a vow was made by him that he would never write another active sentence. He was challenged to a duel. Blood was shed. Butts were kicked. Lives were lost. Shrieks could be heard. The halls of Henderson were run down by people who were concerned. When the room was entered by them, the carnage was seen by them. When Wheeler was found standing over the bodies, only these words were spoken by him: “Mistakes were made.”

Note: We use ‘By’ when we want to show who does something in the passive sentence.


1. Which of the following are passives?

1. She was very excited.
2. She was asked to leave.
3. The child is being very good.
4. The child is being looked after by her mother.
5. You will be taken to the airport.
6. You will be very pleased with the service.
7. She has worked here for many years.
8. She has been a great colleague.
9. She has been promoted many times.
10. She was born in London.

2. Apply the active or passive forms where suitable.

A few weeks ago, while I (1)_____________ (shop) at the supermarket near my house, I (2) _____________ (rob). I was at the checkout counter, paying my groceries. When I (3) _____________(give) my change by the cashier, I (4) _____________ (put) it in my purse. As I (5) _____________ (get) out of the store, I (6) _____________ (feel) a pull at my purse. Suddenly, I (7)_____________ (see) a man run past me. I ran back into the store and told the manager what happened. The manager called the police immediately. However, I thought he will never (8) _____________ (catch). When the police arrived, I told them“ My wallet (9) _____________ (steal) Actually, the thief got on the train and disappeared. Unfortunately, my wallet (10) ______ (find) yet.

3. Write the passive forms!

1. He was(tell) many times to stop talking in class.
2. He was (disappoint) by the movie.
3. He was (convince) by his brother to stay home.
4. The present was (give) to her by her co-worker.
5. The thief was (catch) by the police.
6. This book is being (read) by all the students.
7. “Leisure” was (write) by William Davies.
8. A new college is soon going to be (build) here.
9. Many mistakes were (make) by the students.
10. The meeting was (hold) in the hall.

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