Active & Passive Voice

Introduction

When the subject of a sentence does something, i.e. if the subject of a sentence is the ‘doer’ of some action, we say that the sentence or the verb of that sentence is in Active Voice.

When the subject of a sentence does not do anything, i.e. if the subject is ‘not the doer’ of any action

but allows the Object of the preposition to do something to it, we say that the sentence or the verb of that sentence is in PASSIVE VOICE.

Confusing…?  Now look at these examples:

The cat killed the rat.          Active Voice

The cat = subject of the sentence

killed     = verb of the sentence

the rat  = the object of the verb

Now, who killed whom?  =

‘the cat’ – the subject of the sentence killed “the rat” – the object of the verb.

We say that this sentence or the verb of this sentence is in Active Voice because

the subject ‘the cat’ does the killing.

Let’s see what this sentence is about…

The rat was killed by the cat.    PASSIVE VOICE

The rat = subject of the sentence

was killed = verb of the sentence

the cat = the object of the preposition “by”

Now, who killed whom?    ‘The rat killed the cat’?  Noooooo….

Even in his sentence ‘the cat’ killed ‘the rat’, but not ‘the rat’ killed ‘the cat’!

Though ‘the rat’ is actually the subject of the sentence, it is not doing anything

but passively allowing ‘the cat’ which is the object of the preposition ‘by’ to kill it.

As the subject of the sentence does not do anything but allows passively something

to be done to it, we say that this sentence or the verb of this sentence is in PASSIVE VOICE.

How do we know who does what?  Well, the answer is in the VERB – ‘was killed’!

the verb – was killed – one verb, two parts — simple past tensePassive Voice.

Suppose the second sentence was like this: ‘The rat killed the cat.’ (which might be correct according to the grammar rules but would not be sensible) we would say that this sentence or the verb of this sentence was in Active Voice.

For power presentation slides on Active – Passive Voice, please, click here on active-passive.forms . For continuity, please keep clicking after each feature in each slide.]

Why do we use Active Voice and Passive Voice?

We use Active Voice when we want to say something about the subject of the sentence – who does what.

We use Passive Voice when we want to say what happened to something or someone rather than who does it – the result.

For example,

He broke the window.    Active Voice

In this Active Voice sentence, we emphasise ‘who does the action of breaking’ –

‘He’.  So he is responsible or he should be punished and so on…

The window is broken (by him or somebody).    PASSIVE VOICE

In this Passive Voice sentence, we emphasise on ‘what happened’ rather than

‘who did it’.  So the window must be repaired or boarded up and so on…

Though we have an agent ‘who did the action’, we are more concerned about

the result rather than the person responsible for that.

In normal conversation, we first think of who should be given importance – the agent responsible for the action or the result of the action – and then make the sentence. But to get the practice of making these different expressions, we need to learn some rules and important points.

There are certain changes that take place when we change an Active Voice sentence into a Passive Voice sentence.  Though the meaning or the sense of the sentence makes it clear for us whether the sentence or the verb of the sentence is Active or Passive, at the initial stage, as we are now, it may help us to understand the Voice better if we know the changes first.  The real purpose or use of the Voices will be dealt later in this sub-topic.

The changes…

a) The cat killed the rat.   Active Voice

The rat was killed by the cat.    PASSIVE VOICE

*The Subject of the sentence “the cat” in the Active Voice is changed into

the Object of the preposition ‘by’ in the Passive Voice.

[The Object of the preposition ‘by’ is normally omitted in speech and in writing; we, however, keep using it in every sentence we make or change to get ourselves used to this point.

Remember that just because we do not see or hear an Object of the preposition in any Passive Voice sentence, we cannot say that it is not passive. By the time we are through with some rules and important points, we will be able to recognize the difference.  We need some patience, of course. In fact, knowing the difference between the Active and Passive is what we are actually doing right now!]

b) The cat killed the rat.       Active Voice

The rat was killed by the cat.      PASSIVE VOICE

**The Verb of the Active Voice ‘killed’ is changed into “was killed’ in the

Passive Voice.  [More in the ‘Tense – Passive Voice’]

c)  The cat killed the rat.        Active Voice

The rat was killed by the cat.        PASSIVE VOICE

***The Object of the verb ‘the rat’ in the Active Voice is changed into the

subject of the Passive Voice sentence.

Some important points:

To change an Active Voice verb into Passive, the Verb must be a TRANSITIVE VERB, i.e. the Verb must have, at least, one direct or indirect object because that object becomes the subject of the Passive Voice sentence. The Subject of the Active sentence which becomes the Object of the preposition (normally ‘by’, but depending on the context, it may be ‘with’) in the Passive is usually placed at the end of the sentence, and is omitted in most of the expressions. There are some Verbs which can never be used in the Passive even if they are in Transitive Verb position, i.e. even if they have an Object. There are certain situations where using the Passive Voice makes the sentence meaningless, senseless and ridiculous.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs:

Now that we have come to know that to change a sentence or verb from Active to Passive we need that Verb to be a Transitive one, we must know what Transitive and Intransitive Verbs are.

A transitive verb is the one which has an Object, a direct or an indirect or both.

An intransitive verb is the one which does not have any Object, direct or indirect.

TRANSITIVE VERB

e.g.

He drew a picture.

A Transitive Verb in a sentence answers the question ‘what?’ or ‘whom?’ or ‘both’.

In this sentence, the verb word ‘drew’ is a Transitive Verb because it answers

the question ‘what?’.  What did he draw? = ‘a picture’.

And the answer to the question ‘what?’ = ‘a picture’ is a Direct Object.

e.g.

He told me.

In this sentence, the verb word ‘told’ is a Transitive Verb because it has an answer

to the question ‘whom?’.  Whom did he tell? = ‘me’.

And the answer to the question ‘whom?’ = ‘me’ is an Indirect Object.

In other words, a Verb word in a sentence which answers the question ‘what?’ or

‘whom?’ is a Transitive Verb. And the Active Voice sentence which has a Transitive Verb can be changed into Passive.

INTRANSITIVE VERB

e.g.

He went away.

He went… what? = — no answer –

He went… whom? = — no answer –

He went… where? = away

In this sentence, the verb word ‘went’ is an Intransitive Verb because it

does not answer the question ‘what?’ or ‘whom?’; and, consequently, it

does not have any Object – direct or indirect. Though there is the word ‘away’ after the verb, it is not an Object because it is not the answer to ‘what?’ or ‘whom?’.  It is the answer to the question ‘where?’.  The word ‘away’ in this sentence is a complement and categorically it is an adverb. Consequently, this sentence cannot be changed into Passive Voice.

Object or Complement?

We have learned that a Direct Object is usually a noun – a thing, and an Indirect

Object can be a noun or a pronoun – usually a person, and it is normally placed

after the verb. However, not all nouns, representing things or persons, that come after a verb in a sentence can be objects though they are the answers  to the question ‘what?’ or ‘whom?’.

The nouns that come after a LINK VERB OR VERB OF INCOMPLETE PREDICATION are called ‘complements’.

Explanation:

Some verbs give us complete sense without the support of any other word or words in a sentence.

For example:

Birds fly.

We eat.

I can hear.

Ice melts.

They left.

But there are some other verb words which need to take the support of some other

word or words to give us complete sense.

For example:

I am

She appears

They remain

He feels

In these examples the verb words ‘am’, ‘appears’, ‘remain’ and ‘feels’ do not give us the complete sense; they need the support of some other words, such as ‘clean’, ‘confused’, ‘silent’, and ‘sorry’, for instance, to make us get the intention of the speaker or writer of these expressions.

Now look at these sentences:

I am clean.

She appears to be confused.

They remain silent.

He feels sorry for what he has done.

And words that help the Linking Verbs to give us complete sense are called

complements.  The words ‘clean’, ‘confused’, ‘silent’, and ‘sorry’ in the example sentences above are complements. We some times come across expressions with only the linking verbs without the complements.  In such cases the other part of the sentence may be omitted because the listener or the reader has some idea of what has happened before.  For example,

Mr. A. :  “Are you the new-comer?”

Mr. B. :  “Yes, I am.”   [Here ‘the new-comer’ is understood because this expression is an answer to the question. The sentence in complete would be “Yes. I am the new-comer.”]

WHAT ARE LINK VERBS or VERBS OF INCOMPLETE PREDICATION or COPULAS?

Link/linking verbs normally do not express actions.  Instead they connect the subject of the verb to some additional information about that subject mentioned in the sentence. The most common linking verbs are ‘be’ forms – is, am, are, was, were (when used as main verbs) – become, seem, stay, appear, feel, grow, look, prove, remain, turn, and some of the verbs of perception, such as smell, taste, feel, etc. Some of these verbs can be either linking verbs or action verbs, depending on the context.

e.g.

He is an accountant.

In this sentence, the verb ‘is’ does not show any action; it shows only the existence of a person.  Though the phrase ‘an accountant’ is a noun and is the answer to the question ‘what?’, it is not an object because it does not answer an ‘action’ verb!  The action does not pass from the verb to ‘an accountant’; and such a verb is called Link/linking Verb or Verb of Incomplete Predication or Copula, and the word that follows it is called a complement.

Compare:

[A]

She teaches English.

The verb ‘teaches’ is an action verb – a Transitive Verb. The noun ‘English’ is its object – a direct object. This sentence can be changed from Active to Passive.

She is English.      [= she comes from England – her nationality]

The verb ‘is’ expresses ‘a state of being’ – there is no mentioning of what ‘she’ is doing.  The noun ‘English’ is a complement because it tells us about what ‘she’ is but not what ‘she’ has done; and therefore, ‘is’ is a linking Verb.

This sentence cannot be changed to Passive. 

She is teaching us English.  

The verb word ‘is’ is not the main verb in this sentence and it is not showing any ‘state of being’ but is acting as a helping verb to form the ‘present continuous’ tense of the main verb ‘teach’; it is a part of an action verb and the words that follow it – ‘us’ and ‘English’ – are the Objects of the verb “is teaching”, not of ‘is’ alone. And this verb is a Transitive Verb and this sentence (or verb) can be changed into Passive.

[B]

The milk turned sour.

In this sentence the verb word ‘turned’ is a linking Verb.  The word ‘sour’ is not an object because it is not the answer to the question ‘what?’ and it is not a noun or pronoun; it is an adjective . It is the complement of the subject, not the Object of the Verb. The verb word ‘turned’ shows us how the milk, the subject of the sentence, was. The action does not pass from the verb to the other word.  Therefore, the verb ‘turned’ in this sentence is a linking verb, and it or the sentence cannot be changed into Passive.

The teacher turned suddenly towards the boy who dozed off.

In this sentence the verb word ‘turned’ is Intransitive, which means it does not have an object.  The word ‘suddenly’ is an adverb; the word ‘towards’ is a preposition; and the phrase ‘the boy’, though a noun, is not the object of the verb but it is the object of the preposition ‘towards’.

Therefore, the word ‘turned’ in this sentence is an Intransitive Verb, and so this sentence cannot be changed into Passive.

He turned the picture upside down.

In this sentence the action verb word ‘turned’ is Transitive, which means it has an object.  ‘The picture’, a noun phrase, is the Direct Object of the verb because it is the answer to the question ‘what?’. Therefore, the word ‘turned’ in this sentence is a Transitive Verb, and so this sentence can be changed into Passive.

SOME MORE EXAMPLES:

He seems tired.    ‘seems’ –linking Verb;  ‘tired’ — complement

She looks charming.  ‘looks’ — linking Verb;  ‘charming’ — complement

His clothes smelled awful.    ‘smelled’ — linking Verb; ‘awful’ — complement

This medicine tastes sweet.    ‘tastes’ — linking Verb;  ‘sweet’ — complement

His theory was proved wrong.

‘was proved’ — linking Verb; ‘wrong’ – complement

My boss felt annoyed when I gave him an incomplete report.

‘felt’ — linking Verb;  ‘annoyed’ — complement

My elder brother grew taller than our father.

‘grew’ — linking Verb;  ‘taller’ — complement

We stayed indoors the whole day.

‘stayed’ — linking Verb;  ‘indoors’ — complement

A COMPLEMENT OR AN OBJECT?

1.  He was my teacher.                    = complement

He told my teacher.                         = object

2.  She grew a garden.                     = object

She grew pale.                                   = complement

3.  They looked up the number.    = object

They looked disappointed.             = complement

4.  He was a professor.                    = complement

He was examining a professor. = object

5.  You are the President.              = complement

You are guiding the President. = object

__________________________________

Tense – Passive Voice

 

Introduction

1.  Simple Past

2.  Past continuous

3. Past Perfect

4. Past Perfect Continuous

1.  Simple Present

2.  Present Continuous

3.  Present Perfect

4.  present Perfect continuous

1.  Simple Future

2.  future continuous

3.  Future Perfect

4.  Future Perfect Continuous

There are only EIGHT TENSES in Passive Voice.

The ‘Past Perfect Continuous’, ‘Present Perfect Continuous’, ‘Future Continuous’ and the ‘Future Perfect Continuous’ Tenses are not used in Passive Voice in modern English. The Active Voice sentences having these four Tenses are not changed into Passive Voice.

The Main Verb in any Tense in Passive Voice takes only the Past Participle — V3 – form!

PAST

1. Simple Past

formula:  was/were + the past participle V3 form of the Main Verb

go/goes  –  went  — gone  –  going

walk/walks  –  walked  — walked –  walking

e.g.

(i).  He built a large house.     [‘built’ – simple past – active voice]

A large house was built by him.   [‘was built’ – simple past – passive voice]

(ii).  They flew several kites.  [‘flew’ – simple past – active voice]

Several kites were flown by them.

[‘were flown’ – simple past – passive voice]

2. Past Continuous

formula:  was/were + being + the past participle V3 form of the Main Verb

e.g.

(i).  She was cooking dinner.      [‘was cooking’ – past continuous – active voice]

Dinner was being cooked by her.

[‘was being cooked’ – past continuous – passive voice]

(ii).  They were painting some attractive pictures on the wall.

[‘were painting’ – past continuous – active voice]

Some attractive pictures were being painted on the wall by them.

[‘were being painted’ – past continuous – passive voice]

3. Past Perfect

formula:  had + been + the Past Participle V3 form of the Main Verb

e.g.

(i).  She had posted the letter before she got the phone call.

[‘had posted’ – past perfect – active voice; and in this sentence “got” in the second part is better kept in the active voice]

The letter had been posted (by her) before she got the phone call.

[‘had been posted’ – past perfect – passive voice]

(ii).  Mac had answered five questions before the final bell went.

[‘had answered’ – past perfect – active voice]

Five questions had been answered (by Mac) before the final bell went.

[‘had been answered’ – past perfect – passive voice]

4.  Past Perfect Continuous

—— no passive voice for this tense ——

PRESENT

1. Simple Present

formula:  is/am/are + the Past Participle V3 form of the Main Verb

e.g.

(i). The grocer sells fresh vegetables.   [‘sells’ – simple present – active voice]

Fresh vegetables are sold by the grocer.

[‘are sold’ – simple present – passive voice]

(ii). He gives me an expensive watch.

[‘gives’ – simple present – active voice]

The verb ‘gives’ in this sentence has two objects:  ‘me’ and ‘an expensive watch’, and so this sentence can be changed in two ways:

*(a)  I am given an expensive watch by him.  [‘am given’ – simple present – passive voice]

*(b)  An expensive watch is given to me by him.

[‘is given’ – simple present – passive voice]

2. Present Continuous

formula:  is/am/are + being + the Past Participle V3 form of the Main Verb

e.g.

(i).  My boss is giving many assignments.

[‘is giving’ – present continuous – active voice]

Many assignments are being given by my boss.

[‘are being given’ – present continuous – passive voice]

(ii).  She is giving some lecture.

[‘is giving’ – present continuous – active voice]

Some lecture is being given by her.

[‘is being given’ – present continuous – passive voice]

3. Present Perfect

formula:  has/have + been + the past participle V3 form of the Main Verb

e.g.

(i).  I have taken him out.    [‘have taken’ – present perfect – active voice]

He has been taken out by me.

[‘has been taken’ – present perfect – passive voice]

(ii).  She has shown them an interesting book.

[‘has shown’ – present perfect – active voice]

*a) They have been shown an interesting book by her.

[‘have been shown’ – present perfect – passive voice]

*b) An interesting book has been shown to them by her.

[‘has been shown’ – present perfect – passive voice]

4. Present Perfect Continuous

——— no passive voice for this tense ———

Future

1. Simple Future

formula:  will/shall + be + the Past Participle V3 form of the Main Verb

e.g.

I will give you a present.    [‘will give’  --  simple present – active voice]

*a) You shall be given a present by me.

[‘will be given’  -- simple future – passive voice]

*b) A present will be given to you by me.

[‘will be given’ – simple future – passive voice]

2. Future Continuous

——— no passive voice for this tense ———

3. Future Perfect

formula:

will/shall + have + been + the Past Participle V3 form of the Main Verb

e.g.

The doctor shall have examined ten patients by 10 O’clock.

[‘shall have examined’ – future perfect – active voice]

Ten patients will have been examined by 10 O’clock by the doctor.

[‘will have been examined’ – future perfect – passive voice]

4. Future Perfect Continuous

——— no passive form for this tense ———

******************************

Round up of Tenses – Active & Passive

verb tense voice parts
give simple present active one verb – one part
is given simple present passive one verb – two parts 
am giving present continuous active one verb – two parts
am being given present continuous passive one verb – three parts
has given present perfect active one verb – two parts 
has been given present perfect passive one verb – three parts
gave simple past active one verb – one part
was given simple past passive one verb – two parts
was giving past continuous active one verb – two parts
was being given past continuous passive one verb – three parts
had given past perfect active one verb – two parts
had been given past perfect passive one verb – three parts
will give simple future active one verb – two parts
will be given simple future passive one verb – three parts 
will have given future perfect active one verb – three parts 
will have been given future perfect passive one verb – four parts

A SPECIAL NOTE ON THE VERB WORD “LET”:

The verb word ‘let’ has no passive form; and therefore, Active sentences with ‘let’ would take “allowed” or “permitted” in Passive

For example,

She didn’t let her children go out alone.   Active Voice

The children were not allowed (or permitted) to go out alone  by her.  Passive Voice

ABOUT THE USE OF THE ACTIVE AND PASSIVE:

Learning how the different Passive forms are constructed may be easy once we understand the rules, but what is often difficult to understand is when it is proper to use an Active Voice sentence and when it is appropriate to use a Passive Voice sentence.

We must remember that Active and Passive forms are often not equivalent and we cannot use either of them to suit a particular context.

Luckily for us there are some clear-cut cases, such as:

Doctor:  “What’s the matter?”

Patient:   “I broke my arm.”   Active Voice

But not…

Patient:   “My arm was broken by me.”   Passive Voice

It would be ridiculous using Passive in this expression!

However, not all situations are so clear as the one given above.

That is the main reason we are often given several rules and are regularly asked to do several exercises – only to give us more exposure and practice in constructing expressions with Passive. But that is only one side of the coin; the other side is the learners themselves!  We must be observant and must take note of the expressions we find in the books, and more importantly, the ones we hear from others. We must make use of every situation we are faced with in putting our skills to test.

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About the Author:BC Kumar

BC Kumar, an English Language Teacher, taught in numerous countries including Ethiopia, Oman and India, shares his knowledge and passion for the English Language. Disclaimer: This is a free educational website and all content has been compiled by the author. All copyrights to images and videos belong to their respective owners.

  • Abdulhakeem

    hi sir is there any reason for not be changed the perfect continuous tenses from active voice into passive voice?

  • weblearneng

    Hi, Abdulhakeem, thanks for visiting Weblearneng. You have got an interesting question there. Technically there is no reason to avoid using perfect continuous tenses in Passive Voice. However, the language is controlled more by the usage, connotations and preferences than by the rigid grammar rules. You get to know better as you keep reading more and more. Using perfect continuous tenses in passive may seem odd, like in this example: ‘The barber has been cutting his client’s hair.’ when changed, “His client’s hair has BEEN BEING cut by the barber.” The ‘be’ form is used twice in the same verb, but nothing grammatically wrong. Which sentence do you like the best? I’m sure you prefer the Active Voice sentence. All the Best!