passive voice is used when we want to focus attention on the person
or thing affected by the action. Normally, the performer of the action,
or the agent, comes first and is made the subject of the verb and
then we use the active form of the verb. The other person or thing
is made the object of the verb. Consider these examples:
invited her to the party.'
'The construction company in Station Road employs three hundred people.'
However, if you want to focus on the
person or thing affected by the action, you make the person or thing
the subject of the sentence and use the passive voice:
'She was invited to the party by the boss.'
'Three hundred people are employed by the construction
company in Station Road.'
then, should we use the passive voice in preference to the active?
often prefer to use the passive voice when:
1. We do not know who the agent is:
'I don’t know who did it, but my pet rabbit has been let
'I had the feeling that I was being followed.'
'I don’t know who did it, but someone has let out my pet rabbit.'
'I had the feeling that somebody was following me.'
it is obvious to the listener or reader who the agent is:
'I had been instructed to remove all the ash trays.'
'She discovered that she was being paid less than her
'My boss had instructed me to remove all the ash trays.'
'She discovered that the firm was paying her less than her
When it is not important to know who the agent is:
'Do you want a lift?' 'No thanks, I’m being collected.'
'Do you want a lift?' 'No thanks, someone is collecting me.'
When the agent has already been mentioned:
'In the next session of parliament, new laws will be introduced
aimed at stopping domestic violence.'
'In the next session of parliament, the government will introduce
new laws aimed at stopping domestic violence.'
When people in general are the agents:
'All the Beatles records can be borrowed from the central
'You can borrow all the Beatles records from the central library.
is a complete list of all the verb froms that are normally used
in the passive.
forms are made up of an appropriate form of the verb ‘to be’ followed
by the past participle (pp) form of the verb:
is this word pronounced?
being + pp
house is being redecorated.
been + pp
just been sacked!
his credit cards were stolen last week.
being + pp
He was being treated for depression when he won the lottery.
been + pp
vegetables had been cooked for far too long, but we had
to eat them.
be + pp
house contents will be auctioned a week on Saturday.
have been + pp
no point in hurrying. It will all have been eaten by
be + pp
have to be taken almost every year you are at school.
Do you know who is going to be invited?
is possible to form the passive with other verb forms, such as the
perfect continuous ones, but usually it is better to avoid these
forms because of their complicated and inelegant structure e.g.
'The factory has been being built for 10 years!
Note that it is only transitive verbs which can have passive forms.
Intransitive verbs, like cry, die, arrive, disappear, wait, which
often describe physical behaviour, cannot be used in the passive voice.
They have no objects, so there is nothing to become the subject of
a passive sentence.