Active and Passive Voice Examples


In this section we will give active and passive voice examples and explanations to help you teach/learn this important subject.

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But first, here is a reminder:

What do we mean by "voice"?

Voice is the form of a verb that shows whether the subject of a sentence does the action (= the active voice) or is affected by it (= the passive voice).

Examples:
  • In the sentence "James hit the ball," the verb "hit" is in the active voice. In other words, the form "hit" shows that the subject (James) did the action. The sentence "James hit the ball" is an active sentence.

  • In the sentence "The ball was hit by James," the verb "was hit" is in the passive voice. In other words, the form "was hit" shows that the subject (The ball) was affected by the action. The sentence "The ball was hit by James" is a passive sentence.


What do "active" and "passive" mean?

In the active voice, the agent (person/thing doing the action) is the subject of the sentence.

For example:

A dog.

A dog


The dog bit the mailman.

Active voice example

Now, in the passive voice, the agent is either not known or is less important.

For example:

A mailman.

A mailman


The mailman was bitten.
(The agent is not known or not specified.)

The mailman was bitten by the dog.
(The agent, "the dog," is less important than the object "the mailman.")

Passive voice example


How do we make a passive sentence?

The important factor in creating the passive sentence is the third form of the verb (also called V3, or past participle).

Regular verbs have the same past participle and simple past form, but irregular verbs can be different.

For example:

Regular verbs

Verb 1
(First form of the verb)
= base form
Verb 2
(Second form of the verb)
= simple past form
Verb 3
(Third form of the verb)
= past participle form
work worked worked
help helped helped
bake baked baked

Irregular verbs

Verb 1
(First form of the verb)
= base form
Verb 2
(Second form of the verb)
= simple past form
Verb 3
(Third form of the verb)
= past participle form
bite bit bitten
draw drew drawn
come came come

Once you know the correct past participle, then the verb BE in the correct form is used to make the passive.

Examples:

  • The mailman is bitten every day.

  • The mailman was bitten yesterday.

  • The mailman has been bitten today.

  • The mailman will be bitten tomorrow.

  • The mailman doesn't like to be bitten.

Any tense in English can be used in the passive voice, including the infinitive.

Some real active and passive voice examples

The passive voice is more common in written English and is often avoided in spoken English.

It is often used in newspapers, and in academic writing and reports.

Examples:
  • Taxes to be raised next year. (newspaper headline)
    This is the infinitive passive.

  • The swimming pool is closed because it is being cleaned. (a notice)
    This is the present progressive passive.

  • The house was built in 1898.
    This is the simple past passive.

  • The concert tonight has been canceled because the guitarist is sick.
    This is the present perfect passive.

  • Your groceries will be delivered this afternoon.
    This is the future passive (using will.)
In all of these examples, we either don't know who is performing / performed / will perform the action, or it isn't important.


Compare the above sentences with the following real examples of the active voice:
  • The government has decided to raise taxes next year.
    (The government performed the action.)

  • Cleaners are working in this area. Please be careful.

  • They are building a house across the road from my office.
    (Here, spoken English is avoiding the passive by using "They are" instead. This is very common.)
  • I'm very disappointed they've canceled the concert tonight.


Why use the passive voice?

As we've seen above, the passive voice is often avoided in spoken English, so why bother?

The passive voice gives a more formal tone to your writing.

It also enables you to speak more neutrally about things, rather than using your own opinions, for example:
"It is said that . . ."
"It is believed that . . . "
And so forth.

It is also important to understand the passive when you are reading, since if you don't realize the passive voice is being used, it can lead to misunderstandings of the text.

You will find real active and passive voice examples everywhere you look, and it is a good practice to make a note of ones you find, and try to think about why they have been used.

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