Passive Voice: How to Use the Active vs Passive Voice Properly

Passive voice vs active voice is one of the most complained about things in the English language. People are often told that they are being too ‘passive’, or that their work shouldn’t be in the ‘active voice‘, but nobody really knows what they did differently between the two pieces. Thankfully, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to the passive voice, so you don’t ever have to wonder how you accidentally used it again. We’ll explain what it is, the main differences between active and passive voice, and when exactly you should and shouldn’t use the passive voice.

Passive Voice

What Is Passive Voice?

The passive voice, put simply, is when something that is done by the subject of the sentence is done by the object instead. Let’s break that down a little more though. A subject of a sentence is typically the noun that does the verb. In the passive voice though, the object does the verb instead. The object in a sentence is usually the thing that receives the action. But in the passive voice, it is doing the ‘doing’ not having something done to it. Confused? Perhaps looking at the differences between active and passive voices will help. We’ll also use examples to make it a little clearer.

When writing in the passive voice, the subject no longer does an action but rather becomes acted upon. For example, the sentence ‘John threw the ball’ would become ‘The ball was thrown by John.’ In many cases, English professionals frown upon the use of the passive voice but it certainly does have its uses.

Examples of the passive voice

  • The snake might have killed him. (Active) –> He might have been killed by the snake. (Passive)
  • My father had Tom wash his car. (Active) –> My father had his car washed by Tom. (Passive)

Passive Voice Examples

Examples of active and passive voice for different tenses in EnglishPin

The Difference Between Active and Passive Voice

Active voice is essentially just the opposite of passive voice. The subject does the ‘doing’, the object has it done to it. Still confused? We’re not surprised. Let’s look at some examples to clear it up though.

The following sentence is written in the active voice: Dave completed his homework. In this case, Dave is the subject, completed is the verb, and the homework is the object that was completed. Now, if you wrote that sentence in the passive voice, it would look something like this: The homework was completed by Dave. In this case, the homework is the object that is doing the doing, completed is of course still the verb, but Dave, the subject, is now having the verb done to him. Both are grammatically correct, but the active voice example is slightly more powerful in its message because it is clear who is doing what.

Another example might look like this in the active voice: Kelly reached for the soap. Again, Kelly is the subject, reached is the verb that she is doing, and soap is the object that was reached for. To turn it into the passive voice, it would have to look like this: The soap was reached for by Kelly. The difference is easy enough to understand when you look at examples. But just remember, the active voice has the subject doing something to the object, and the passive voice has the object doing something to the subject.

When to Use the Passive Voice

If the active voice is more powerful in its message, then it should always be used, right? Wrong actually. The passive voice can be used effectively in certain scenarios. If, for example, the subject was unknown or was someone you wanted to keep hidden, then the passive voice works quite well. If you were writing a crime novel for example, but you didn’t want to reveal the killer just yet, you might say something like “The gun was reached for by the dark figure” as it creates a little more suspense.

The passive voice is also a great way to put emphasis on the subject at the end of the sentence. Something like “The shots had been fired by Tim” creates a more tense atmosphere than using the active voice alternative “Tim fired the shots”. Some sentences in English are simply always presented in the passive voice too. “The book was written by…” is just one example of when passive voice is almost always favored over the active voice.

When to Use the Passive Voice

The passive is used:

(1) When the agent (= the person who does the action) is unknown, unimportant, or obvious from the context.

Examples:

  • Jane was shot. (We don’t know who shot her.)
  • This house was built in 1815. (unimportant agent).

(2) To make more polite or formal statements.

Examples:

  • The trees haven’t been watered. (more polite)
  • You haven’t watered the trees. (less polite)

(3) When the action is more important than the agent, as in processes, instructions, events, reports, headlines, news items, and advertisements.

Example:

  • 60 people were killed in shootings across Chicago between Friday and Monday morning.

(4) To put emphasis on the agent.

Example:

  • The new bar will be opened by Sean.

When not to Use the Passive Voice

As a general rule, the active voice is almost always preferred in English, because it is a much more concise and clear way of expressing what happened. In speech especially, active voice is used mostly because it simply makes sense to focus on keeping what you say as short and clear as it can be. Other than for stylistic reasons in writing, passive voice should rarely be used, because the passive voice is just so open to confusion or misinterpretation on behalf of the reader or listener.

Using the Passive Voice in Writing

As we’ve already suggested, passive voice is certainly something that shouldn’t be completely disregarded in writing. Whilst there are many reasons to avoid it in speaking, the passive voice has a place in writing stylistically, because even though the meaning might not always be clear, the reader does have the benefit of being able to read the sentence back again to understand what you are trying to say if they were confused initially. The passive voice is one of the best ways in writing to build suspense in a scene and leave the reader guessing until the last possible second about who exactly did what.

In terms of tone, passive voice can actually create quite an impartial tone in your writing. This is especially important in academic work, where you are supposed to present the findings of other people to be considered by the reader. Passive voice is a helpful trick that you can use sparingly to create more distance between yourself and your objective piece of work. “A relationship was found between the amount of chocolate that children ate, and whether or not they had been active that day by numerous studies (Jones and Jones 2020; Johnson and Johnson, 2021)” is an example of passive writing in academic essays. To say “Numerous studies found a relationship between…” just isn’t quite as impartial or objective.

Passive Voice Misuse

The most common misuse of passive voice is in sentences where the subject ought to be doing the verb, because the sentence loses its impact if it is written in the passive voice. If you are trying to recount a story in a novel about a character’s downfall “He defeated me” in the active voice, sounds much better than “I was defeated by him”, because the passive voice just lessens the impact of an emotional sentence. Because there is often confusion involved around the passive voice, you should also never use it when clarity is important in a piece.

Hopefully, the above guide will support you through making changes from passive to active voice where necessary, and present you with some ideas about when it should and shouldn’t be used in speech and writing.

Passive Voice vs. Active Voice | Rules & Examples

Passive vs active voice for different tenses in English, please note that:

Active vs Passive Voice for Present Simple Tense

  • Active voice: S + V1
  • Passive voice: S + am/ is/ are + V3

Example:

  • I make a cake. (Active)
  • A cake is made by me. (Passive)

Active vs Passive Voice for Present Continuous Tense

  • Active voice: S + am/is/are + V-ing
  • The passive: S + am/ is/ are + being + V3

Example:

  • They are planting some trees. (Active)
  • Some trees are being planted. (Passive)

Active vs Passive Voice for Present Perfect Tense

  • Active voice: S + have/ has + V3
  • Passive voice: S + have/ has + been + V3

Example:

  • Someone has eaten my muffin. (Active)
  • My muffin has been eaten. (Passive)

Active and Passive Voice for the Present Perfect Continuous

  • Active voice:S + have/ has + been + V-ing
  • The Passive: S + have/ has + been + being + V3

Active and passive voice example:

  • Lisa has not been practicing English. (Active)
  • English has not been being practiced by Lisa. (Passive)

Active and Passive Voice for the Future with WILL

  • Active voice: S + will/ shall + V1
  • Passive voice: S + will be + V3

Active and passive voice example:

  • My parents will take us to the park. (Active)
  • We will be taken to the park by our parents. (Passive)

Active and Passive Voice for the Future with BE GOING TO

  • Active voice: S + am/ is/ are + going to + V1
  • Passive voice: S + am/ is/ are going to be + V3

Active and passive voice example:

  • I am going to read the book. (Active)
  • The book is going to be read by me. (Passive)

Active vs Passive Voice for the Future Continuous with WILL

  • Active Voice: S + will/ shall + be + V-ing
  • The Passive: S + will/ shall + be + being + V3

Active and passive voice example:

  • She will be taking care of her children at this time tomorrow. (Active)
  • Her children will be being taken care of at this time tomorrow. (Passive)

Active and Passive Voice for the Future Continuous with BE GOING TO

  • Active voice: S + am/ is/ are + going to + be + V-ing.
  • Passive voice: S + am/ is/ are + going to + be + being + V3.

Example:

  • Linda is going to be preparing dinner. (Active)
  • Dinner is going to be being prepared by Linda. (Passive)

Active vs Passive Voice for the Future Perfect with WILL

  • Active voice: S + will + have + V3
  • Passive voice: S + will have been + V3

Example:

  • I will have finished my report by the end of this month. (Active)
  • My report will have been finished by the end of this month.. (Passive)

Active vs Passive Voice for the Future Perfect with BE GOING TO

  • Active voice: S + am/ is/ are + going to + have + V3
  • The Passive: S + am/ is/ are + going to + have + been + V3

Example:

  • I am going to have finished my report by the end of this month. (Active)
  • My report is going to have been finished by the end of this month. (Passive)

Active and Passive Voice for the Future Perfect Continuous with WILL

  • Active voice: S + will + have + been + V-ing
  • The Passive: S + will + have + been + being + V3

Example:

  • I will have been teaching English for 5 years by next week. (Active)
  • English will have been being taught by me for 5 years by next week. (Passive)

Active vs Passive Voice for the Future Perfect Continuous with BE GOING TO

  • Active voice: S + am/ is/ are + going to + have + been + V-ing.
  • The Passive: S + am/ is/ are + going to + have + been + being + V3.

Example:

  • He is going to have been watching TV. (Active)
  • TV is going to have been being watched by him. (Passive)

Active and Passive Voice for the Past Simple

  • Active voice: S + V2
  • Passive voice: S + was/ were + V3

Example:

  • I visited my uncle last week. (Active)
  • My uncle was visited by me last week. (Passive)

Active and Passive Voice for the Past Continuous

  • Active voice: S + was/ were + V-ing
  • Passive voice: S + was/ were + being + V3

Example:

  • Sam was delivering the letters to the department. (Active)
  • The letters were being delivered to the department by Sam. (Passive)

Active vs Passive Voice for the Past Perfect

  • Active voice: S + had + V3
  • The Passive: S + had been + V3

Example:

  • He had read the book before Nick came. (Active)
  • The book had been read before Nick came. (Passive)

Active vs Passive Voice for the Past Perfect Continuous

  • Active voice: S + had + been + V-ing
  • Passive voice: S + had + been + being + V3

Example:

  • I had been typing the essay for 3 hours before you came yesterday. (Active)
  • The essay had been being typed for 3 hours before you came yesterday. (Passive)

Active and Passive Voice for the Future in the Past (Would)

  • Active voice: S + would + V1
  • The Passive: S + would + be + V3

Example:

  • She would type the letters. (Active)
  • The letters would be typed by her. (Passive)

Active and Passive Voice for the Causative Form

Active voice:

  • S + have/ has somebody + V1 + something
  • S + get(s) somebody + to + V1 + something

Passive voice:

  • S+ have/ has/ get(s) something + V3 + (by + someone).

Example:

  • My father had Tom wash his car. (Active)
  • My father had his car washed by Tom. (Passive)

Active and Passive Voice for Modal Verbs (Present)

  • Active voice: S + modal verb + V1
  • The Passive: S + modal verb+ be + V3

Example:

  • You can solve the problem. (Active)
  • The problem can be solved. (Passive)

Active vs Passive Voice for Modal Verbs (Present Perfect)

  • Active voice: S + modal verb + have + V3
  • The Passive: S + modal verb + have + been + V3

Example:

  • The snake might have killed him. (Active)
  • He might have been killed by the snake. (Passive)

Passive Voice vs. Active Voice | Infographic

Passive Voice Rules for All TensesPin

Passive Voice Video

Active and passive voice examples for different tenses.

Using the passive with all tenses in English.

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AIN
AIN
3 years ago

what is the meaning of ‘V1 and V3?

Engr Khuram
Engr Khuram
2 years ago
Reply to  AIN

V1 = Verb 1st form
v3= Verb 2nd form

Engr Khuram
Engr Khuram
2 years ago
Reply to  Engr Khuram

V3= Verb 3rd form

nKkaksaf
nKkaksaf
1 year ago
Reply to  Engr Khuram

V4= Verb 4th form b***h

Sourav pandit
Sourav pandit
2 years ago
Reply to  AIN

V1-present from
V3-past participle from

Gg@ff.com
Gg@ff.com
2 years ago
Reply to  AIN

Columna 1 or 3 of verb. V3 is the third column

Bapan Chandra Das
Bapan Chandra Das
1 year ago
Reply to  AIN

V:Base form of verb
V3:perticiple form of verb

Conrad Hart ESL Teacher
Conrad Hart ESL Teacher
1 year ago

V3 = Past Participle. This is important to specify because the Present Participle also exists in grammar which is both a Gerund and a participle expressing present action; in English formed by adding -ing

Shivansh spehiya
Shivansh spehiya
1 year ago
Reply to  AIN

V1 mean verb ki first form and v3 means verb ki thirds form

lilly
lilly
1 year ago
Reply to  AIN

first form of vervb V1 and second form of verbV2

Malan
Malan
9 months ago
Reply to  AIN

1st form of Verb And
3rd form of Verb

Prince verma
Prince verma
1 year ago

Thanks for your suggestions

Ali Ahmad
Ali Ahmad
1 year ago

w*f, Future Continues transformation

Will be being w*f
What kind of english it is? don’t make fool first learn and then post

abhishek
abhishek
1 year ago
Reply to  Ali Ahmad

this is the kind of English that someone didn’t teach you

the girl !
the girl !
1 year ago
Reply to  abhishek

yes indeed agreed

the creator not really !
the creator not really !
1 year ago
Reply to  Ali Ahmad

That kind of language should not be used i think ? right ?

Conrad Hart ESL Teacher
Conrad Hart ESL Teacher
1 year ago

No. This is not valid grammar. Neither the present perfect continuous nor the future continuous in the passive voice conjugates with the auxiliary ‘to be’ and a main verb of ‘to be’ in the present participle.

I have been being swimming. INCORRECT
I have been swimming. CORRECT

I will be being applying to a foreign university next year. INCORRECT
I will be applying to a foreign university next year. CORRECT

Abdur Rajaque
Abdur Rajaque
1 year ago

He’s been patrified.Which could be this tense belonged to?

the butterfly girl
the butterfly girl
1 year ago

didn’t help me in any way

Latroyann
Latroyann
6 months ago

How?What..don’t..you…understand?

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