How to use the passive voice

The passive voice can be difficult to understand.
We create passive sentences with be + past participle

The passive voice can be confusing when you are learning English. It can be confusing because it seems to mix two different tenses.

An example of a confusing sentence is:

  • The computer is broken.
The above sentence is confusing because it combines the verb “be”( in present tense) and the verb “break” (in its past participle form). The University of Ottawa has a complete description of what a participle is here. Check out the verb tense overview for more on tenses.

So how do we use the the passive voice?

We use the passive voice when:

  • We don’t know who did an action
  • It is unimportant who did the action
  • We don’t want to identify who did an action
We create sentences in the passive voice by using be + past participle. A passive voice example is:
  • e.g. The old house was built by Bob.
You don’t have to add the “by Bob” part of the sentence.
  • e.g. The old house was built.
We can leave out the “by part” because we either don’t know, or we don’t want to identify who did the action.
The verb “be” will change based on what tense it is used in.
  • e.g. The old house was built. > Simple past
  • e.g. The computer is broken. > Simple present
  • e.g. The computer will be fixed. > Simple future
A practical example of how to use the passive voice in the office is:
  • The presentation will be finished by Monday.
In this example, the person is likely telling their boss that someone will finish the presentation, but they don’t know who will finish it.
If you are looking for active voice vs passive voice chart, check out this post.
Can you think of any other ways that the passive voice could be used in the office?



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Iain Robson

A teacher, a learner, and all round nice guy. I love talking to people through social media, and in real life. Feel free to connect with me on twitter

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