Let’s learn about active voice vs. passive voice in English, with plenty of examples (and how to change active voice sentences to passive sentences).
What is passive voice?
Passive voice is a grammar structure that places the emphasis on the RECEIVER of the action (the verb) in the sentence. Let me show you the difference between active voice and passive voice:
In the active voice, the subject of the sentence DOES the action:
- John painted the house last week.
Subject / verb / object
In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence RECEIVES the action. Now let’s change the sentence to passive voice:
- The house was painted last week.
Subject / verb
Passive Voice: Use
The passive voice in English is used when:
- We do not know who did the action
Example: The documents were stolen.
(we don’t know who stole the documents)
- The receiver of the action is more important
Example: The pyramids were built nearly 5,000 years ago by the ancient Egyptians.
(we want to emphasize “pyramids” more than “ancient Egyptians”)
Passive Voice: Form
To change an active voice sentence to a passive voice sentence:
- Make the object of the active voice sentence into the subject of the passive voice sentence.
- Use the verb “to be” in the same tense as the main verb of the active voice sentence.
- Use the past participle of the main verb of the active voice sentence.
Here are some active and passive voice examples to help!
- Active voice: People drink champagne on New Year’s Eve.
Passive voice: Champagne is drunk on New Year’s Eve.
- Active voice: Chefs use these machines to mix the ingredients.
Passive voice: These machines are used to mix the ingredients.
- Active voice: They renovated the restaurant in 2004.
Passive voice: The restaurant was renovated in 2004.
- Active voice: The teachers informed the students that the class had been cancelled.
Passive voice: The students were informed that the class had been cancelled.
Passive Voice in the Present Tense
In the present, the passive voice uses the verbs is and are + past participle of the main verb.
The passive voice present is often used to describe:
First the apples are picked, then they are cleaned, and finally they’re packed and shipped to the market.
- General thoughts, opinions, and beliefs
New York is considered the most diverse city in the U.S.
It is believed that Amelia Earhart’s plane crashed in Pacific Ocean.
Hungarian is seen as one of the world’s most difficult languages to learn.
Skin cancers are thought to be caused by excessive exposure to the sun.
Passive Voice in the Past Tense
In the past, the passive voice uses the verbs was and were + past participle of the main verb.
The passive voice past is often used to describe:
- Events in history
George Washington was elected president in 1788.
- Crimes / Accidents
Two people were killed in a drive-by shooting on Friday night.
Ten children were injured when part of the school roof collapsed.
…as well as in many other situations when the person who did the action is unknown or unimportant.
Now that you’ve seen a lot of passive voice examples, try writing some of your own sentences that are similar to the ones in this lesson! Putting it into practice will help you remember the passive voice better and use it in your own English.
This lesson only covered the passive voice in the present tense and past tense, but you can learn how to form the passive voice in more verb tenses inside my Advanced English Grammar Course!
Quiz: Passive Voice Exercises - Present and Past