Active and Passive Voice


Here is a detailed explanation of the active and passive voice.

Check out our new series of illustrated workbooks:
Stories and Exercises to Practice the Perfect Tenses

Stories and Exercises to Practice the Progressive Tenses


Let's start from the beginning:


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.

Here are some more examples:

Active: The ball hit Janet.
Passive: Janet was hit / Janet was hit by the ball.

The ball hit Janet



Active: He wrote a letter.
Passive: The letter was written /
The letter was written by him.

He wrote a letter



Active: The mailman carried the mail.
Passive: The mail was carried / 
The mail was carried by the mailman.

The mailman carried the mail



Active: Kevin took a picture.
Passive: A picture was taken / A picture was taken by Kevin.

Kevin took a picture



Active: They took the kids for a walk.
Passive: They kids were taken for a walk / 
The kids were taken for a walk by their moms.

They took the kids for a walk

Active or Passive?

Most of the sentences in English are active sentences.

And if you think about it, they tend to be much more simple than passive sentences.

Have a look at these sentence and see for yourself:

We ate lunch / The lunch was eaten.
I have written a book / A book was written.
They will buy a yacht / A yacht will be bought.

Which version is more simple and common?

However, in some cases, it can be useful to use the passive voice.

For example, when you want to tell about an action, but you don't want to mention who does it:

"Joe broke the window."
(It is clear who did it.)

"The window was broken."
(Here you only describe the action, without mentioning who actually did it.)

Another use of the passive voice is when you want to emphasize the object and not the subject:

"Charles sold the company."
(Here the emphasis is on Charles doing the action.)

"The company was sold."
(Here the emphasis is on the fact that the company was sold.)

Click here for active and passive voice examples.

Click here for to learn how to use the "have something done" structure and the passive voice.

Get Vocabulary, Grammar and Teaching Tips, Site Updates and Special Offers Directly to Your Mailbox

Join now and get a special bonus:

First 2 chapters of the English Short Stories Book and Workbook.

Are you a teacher or a student?

* We respect your email privacy and you can unsubscribe at any time.