Passive Voice – Examples & Rules

In English grammar, we have different parts and elements of speech that help us form complete sentences. For instance, verbs, nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, etc., are the common parts. Especially, a verb is an important part, without which a sentence can never be complete.

Today, we will have a detailed discussion on a particular property of verb, voice. Voice is a verb quality that tells us a relation between the action and the participant. It can be classified into two as active voice and passive voice. However, our main concern is the passive voice.

Passive voice can be defined as the quality of a verb that shows us an action that is being acted upon the subject of the sentence. It is quite different from active voice, and there are several rules that we need to adhere to while using it. So, let us have a quick discussion below.

What is Passive Voice?

Passive voice is one of the five properties of verb. In general, we can understand passive voice as the verb quality where it shows that the subject of a sentence is being acted upon by the verb. Here, the subject experiences an action by the verb performer instead of the subject performing the action.

In other words, we can state that when we use a passive voice in a sentence, we switch the actor and the receiver that would have been otherwise in an active voice construction. Here, the receiver turns out to be the grammatical subject. So basically, in a passive voice, the subject of the sentence is being acted upon by some different verb performer.

The interest lies in the action rather than the subject. We use a passive voice mainly when we have to emphasize the job or the action rather than the subject itself.

In case it is still confusing, let us look at some examples below.

  • The glass was kicked by Sia.
  • This book was written by one of my uncles.
  • This house was bought by some wealthy minister.
  • The movie we watched last night was directed by my father’s friend.
  • A book will be written by our teacher.
  • Bones are adored by dogs.

As we can see, the structure of the sentences focuses on the job more than the subject.

Difference between active voice and passive voice

Now that we know the meaning of the passive voice, it is important to learn its difference from the other voice, the active voice, in order to get a clear understanding of the concept.

When we say active voice, it is a strong and clear way of forming a sentence. In active voice, we try to directly indicate what the subject is doing or performing. It is a more straightforward way of conveying a message.

But on the other hand, passive voice is a grammatical construction where the main focus is on the job or the action. Here, the structure shows that the subject is being acted upon by a verb rather than the subject doing the action.

In a simple way, we can differentiate them by their grammatical structure as;

Active voice: subject + verb + object
Passive voice: object + verb + subject

For example:

  • I wrote that letter. (Active)
  • The letter was written by me. (Passive)
  • My dog ate my neighbor’s shoes. (Active)
  • My neighbor’s shoes were eaten by my dog. (Passive)

In passive voice, the prepositional phrase or the by phase that tells us who is performing the action always follows at the end. And when we form such constructions, the noun that follows in the prepositional phrase no longer remains the grammatical subject.

When to use passive voice?

It is a thumb rule in grammar to always maximize the use of active voice whenever possible. If we have a definite subject that performs a particular task, we should keep the sentence in an active voice and avoid passive voice. However, there are times when the job is easier with a passive voice.

This is especially true when we are trying to convey an idea in legal discussion or in professional settings. In such cases, the use of passive voice makes the write-up look more interesting and engaging than active voice could.

There are more situations where passive voice plays a better role than active voice. They are;

  • When we send reports on a crime scene, and the subject or the perpetrator is unknown or unidentified, passive voice makes it more engaging.
  • Passive voice is helpful when the job is more important than the doer of the job is not so relevant. This is the basic rule of passive voice.
  • Also, when there is a scientific explanation, passive voice comes in handy.

Changing an active voice to passive voice

Whenever there is a sentence in an active voice, and there is a need to change it to passive, follow the given steps;

  • First, we need to identify the direct object of the active voice sentence and exchange it with the subject of the sentence. That means the subject will now come at the end of the sentence.
  • Once we change the position of the subject, it is important to keep in mind that the subject follows a prepositional phrase. That means the subject follows a word like by.
  • And finally, there needs to an auxiliary verb be along with the main verb. Not to mention, there needs to be a change in the form of the verb.

Basically, we change the structure subject + verb + object into object + verb + subject.

However, as we can notice, it is a bit complicated to construct than active voices. Therefore, it is recommended that we construct sentences in active voice. There are also other reasons such as;

  • Passive voice is very wordy. While forming it, we need additional terms. So, the structure becomes very long, creating confusion.
  • Passive voice makes the message less clear. There is a lot of complex terms. So, the reader might get confused.

Nevertheless, in some situations, passive voice is the go-to option. So, it is important to realize its functions and needs.

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