The Passive Voice

The “Active” and “Passive Voice” in speech and writing tell us if the “subject” in a sentence either performs or receives an action. Compared to the “Active Voice,” which concentrates on the “subject” of a sentence, the “Passive Voice” puts the “object” into focus. 

What Does “Passive Voice” Mean?

In most English speech and writing, especially academic writing, we use the “Active Voice.” It tells the reader or listener who or what “does a verb.” The focus is on the subject and its corresponding verb. But what if we want to focus on the “object” or simply don’t know who or what the subject is? That’s where the “Passive Voice” comes into play because it tells us what happens to people (or things). 

Take a look at these examples:

My bike has been stolen. 
(We don’t know who’s stolen it)

The project will be finished next week.
(We focus on the project and that it will be finished – in this case, it’s unimportant to know by whom)

The book was written by my former high school teacher.
(We are more interested in the book than the writer in this sentence)

You might have already noticed that the part of the sentence that would’ve been the “object” in an active sentence turned to be the “subject” in the passive one. Another valuable thing to know is that you can almost always turn a “Passive Voice” sentence into an active one if necessary. Remember: especially in academic writing, the “Active Voice” is always preferred over the “Passive Voice.”

My bike has been stolen. -> Someone has stolen my bike.

The project will be finished next week. -> I will have finished the project next week. 

The book was written by my former high school teacher. -> My former high school teacher wrote the book.

When Should You Use The Passive Voice?

In general, there are 6 cases where you could / should use the “Passive Voice”:

1) When we change the focus of the sentence:

The Eiffel Tower was built by Gustave Eiffel.
(The focus is on the monument, not the builder in this sentence)

2) When it’s unknown, not important, or obvious who (or what) causes the action:

My neighbor was arrested. 
(It’ obvious -> The police arrested him.)

Her phone was stolen while she was on the bus.
(It’s unknown who’s stolen her phone)

The issue is being taken care of.
(It’s not important who takes care of it)

The form can be obtained from the local authorities.
(It’s people in general – no one specific)

3) In factual and scientific writing:

The sample material needs to be checked for contamination.
(Factual laboratory procedure)

The “two-stage” surgical procedure may be applied to patients with less than 3 mm bone depth.
(A medical procedure)

4) In formal writing instead of using “someone” / “people” / “they”:

The project will be finished in Q2.

5) To improve the writing style when adding new information at the end of a sentence: 

There will be three mandatory classes this semester. The classes will be held by Dr. Foreman.

6) When the “subject” of a sentence is too long or wordy: 

I was amazed by how well my children behaved with their new nanny. 
(It would sound too clumsy to say: “How well my children behaved with their new nanny amazed me.”)

Verb Tenses Used In Passive Voice 

Here’s a quick summary of the verb tenses in the “Passive Voice” with the example verb “to love”:

TensePassive VoiceFor comparison: Active Voice
Present SimpleI am lovedI love
Present Continuous /
Present Progressive
I am being lovedI am loving
Past SimpleI was lovedI loved
Past Continuous /
Past Progressive
I was being lovedI was loving
Present PerfectI have been lovedI have loved
Present P. Continuous /
Present P. Progressive
I have been being lovedI have been loving
Past PerfectI had been lovedI had loved
“Will” Future SimpleI will be lovedI will love
“Going to” Future SimpleI am going to be lovedI am going to love
ConditionalI would be lovedI would love