Other Grammar Rules

Passive voice

The passive voice is used to show interest in the person or object that experiences an action rather than the person or object that performs the action. In other words, the most important thing or person becomes the subject of the sentence.

The passive vs the active voice:

The Active Voice The Passive Voice
Most countries in Latin America speak Spanish.
Spanish is spoken in most countries in latin America.

Use of the passive voice:

  1. Passive voice is used when the focus is on the action. It is not important or not known, however, who or what is performing the action.
    Example: "A letter was written."
    The focus, here, is on the fact that a letter was written. We don't know, however, who wrote it.
  2. Sometimes a statement in passive is more polite than active voice, as the following example shows:
    Example: A vase was broken.
    Focus, here, is on the fact that a vase was broken, but we don't blame anyone. Compare this to: "You broke the vase."

Form of the passive voice:

Subject + the appropriate form of to be + Past Participle

NOTE: The appropriate form of to be = To be is put in the the tense of the active voice main verb.

When rewriting active sentences in passive voice, note the following:

  • The object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence.
  • The form of the verb is the appropriate form of to be (the tense of the active voice main verb) + the past participle.
  • The subject of the active sentence becomes the object of the passive sentence (or is dropped.)


Active Nancy makes tea
subject verb object
Passive Tea is made (by Nancy)
object becoming subject verb subject becoming object or is dropped

Examples of the passive voice:

Tense Subject Verb Object
Simple Present Active: Nancy makes tea.
Passive: Tea is made by Nancy.
Present Progressive Active: Nancy is making tea.
Passive: Tea is being made by Nancy.
Simple Past Active: Nancy made tea.
Passive: Tea was made by Nancy.
Past Progressive Active: Nancy was making tea.
Passive: Tea was being made by Nancy.
Present Perfect Active: Nancy has made Tea.
Passive: Tea has been made by Nancy.
Past Perfect Active: Nancy had made tea.
Passive: Tea had been made by Nancy.
Future simple Active: Nancy will make tea.
Passive: Tea will be made by Nancy.
Future perfect Active: Nancy will have made tea.
Passive: Tea will have been made by Nancy.
Conditional Active: Nancy would make tea.
Passive: Tea would be made by Nancy.
Modals Active: Nancy can make tea.
Passive: Tea can bmade by Nancy.

Passive voice sentences with two Objects:

Rewriting an active sentence with two objects in passive voice means that one of the two objects becomes the subject, the other one remains an object. Which object to transform into a subject depends on what you want to put the focus on.

Object 1
Object 2
a flower
to me.
A flower
was offered
to me
by Nancy.
was offered
a flower
by Nancy.

Impersonal Passive:

Study these examples:

  • They say that the planet is in danger.
  • It is said that the planet is in danger.

This type of passive is called impersonal because we use the impersonal form "it is..." This is only possible with verbs of perception (e. g. say, think, know ...)


  • It is said that...
  • It is thought that...
  • It is believed that...
  • It is known that...                      

It is also common that we start the passive form of these sentences with the subject of the that-clause:


  • They say that the planet is in danger.= The planet is said to be in danger.
  • They think that women live longer than men. = Women are thought to live longer.


The infinitive passive voice is used after modal verbs and other most verbs normally followed by an infinitive.

  • You have to be tested on your English grammar.
  • John might be promoted next year.
  • She wants to be invited to the party.
  • expect to be surprised on my birthday.
  • You may be disappointed.


Gerunds are used after prepositions and verbs normally followed by a gerund.

  • remember being taught to drive.
  • The children are excited about being taken to the zoo.
  • The children are excited to be taken to the zoo.
  • Most film stars hate being interviewed.
  • Most film stars hate to be interviewed.
  • Poodles like to be pampered.
  • Poodles like being pampered.


"To be born" is a passive form and is most commonly used in the past tense. However, in some cases, the present or future tense is appropriate.

  • I was born in 1976.
  • Where were you born?
  • Around 100 babies are born in this hospital every week.
  • We don't know on exactly which day the baby will be born.
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