The Passive Voice

December 15, 2014

the passive voice

This structure is really simple for those who already mastered the verbal tenses and the participle forms. The passive is basically:

– the auxiliary TO BE + past participle form of the main verb: e.g. The homework has been done properly.


1) The auxiliary verb is the only one that ever changes, depending on the tense you want to express (see examples below).

2) If you need to express the agent as well, then it is introduced by the preposition “by”. E.g: The homework has been done properly by the pupils.

3) However, you should observe that, in English, the passive voice is usually used:

–          when the agent is unknown, unimportant or obvious from the context:

o   Some jewels were stolen from the shop. (we don’t know who did it)

o   The fire was put out within hours. (by firefighters or at least some really helpful people, we can’t be sure)

–          when the action is more important than the agent:

o   She was nominated for three Oscar awards. (it doesn’t really matter who did it, but she got nominated for something important)

4) Also, some verbs have both personal and impersonal constructions in the passive voice, like: believe, expect, feel, hope, know, report, say, think.

E.g: He is said to be a fair man. She is known to be quite mean. (personal)

It is said that he is a fair man. It is known that she is quite mean. (impersonal)

5) Much as in Romanian, passive voice only works for transitive verbs (than can accept an object, be it direct or indirect). But be careful, since the transition of transitivity from Romanian to English isn’t always identical. Besides that, there are two ways in which you may transform an active sentence into a passive one, depending on the object you want to make the new subject:

Active: I gave flowers to my mother.

Passive 1: Flowers were given to my mother (by me)

Passive 2: My mother was given flowers (by me).


There isn’t much left to say besides that. Here are some more examples of the passive voice for various tenses (try avoiding overly-complicated structures with lots of auxiliaries, like a both perfect and continuous tense):

Present simple: Books are stored in the library.

Present continuous: Our house is being painted at the moment.

Present perfect: They haven’t been accepted for the course yet.

Past simple: The book was published last month.

Past continuous: She was being looked after by relatives last time I spoke to her.

Past perfect: She had been expelled from school

Future simple: He will be shown how to do it when it starts.

Future perfect: The hotel will have been built by the end of the year.

Modal verbs: She should be nominated for Vice-president.

by Anca-Raluca Sandu

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