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The Passive Voice

Functions and examples

We use the passive when who or what causes the action is not important or is not known, or when we want to focus on the action.

The rubbish is taken out every day.
– We don’t know who takes the rubbish out, or maybe it’s not important

The Great Wall of China was built thousands of years ago.
– It’s not important exactly who built it, we want to focus on the action of building

The money has been stolen.
– We don’t know who stole it, and we want to emphasize the action of stealing

My windows are cleaned once a month.
– It’s not important who cleans them. The action of cleaning is more important

Important points

  1. If there are two objects in the active sentence, two passive sentences are possible.

Active: They gave me 50 dollars to do it.
Passive 1: I was given 50 dollars to do it
Passive 2: 50 dollars was given to me to do it.

  1. Get is often used instead of be in informal spoken English.

I got offered the promotion.
The table got damaged in the fire.
I got asked to present the award.

  1. The subject of the active verb (sometimes called the agent) is not usually expressed in passive sentences, because it is unknown or unimportant. However, if it is used, it is usually preceded with by.

The painting was done by Picasso.

  1. When we talk about a tool used by an agent, it can be preceded by with.

The painting was done with oils on canvas.

Form

to be + past participle

Present simple

Active: My mother washes my clothes
Passive: My clothes are washed by my mother.

Present continuous

Active: My mother is washing my clothes
Passive: My clothes are being washed by my mother.

Present perfect

Active: My mother has washed my clothes
Passive: My clothes have been washed by my mother.

Past simple

Active: My mother washed my clothes
Passive: My clothes were washed by my mother.

Past continuous

Active: My mother was washing my clothes
Passive: My clothes were being washed by my mother.

Past perfect

Active: My mother had washed my clothes
Passive: My clothes had been washed by my mother.

Future “will”

Active: My mother will wash my clothes
Passive: My clothes will be washed by my mother.

Future “going to”

Active: My mother is going to wash my clothes
Passive: My clothes are going to be washed by my mother.

Future continuous

Active: My mother will be washing my clothes
Passive: My clothes will be being washed by my mother.

Future perfect

Active: My mother will have washed my clothes
Passive: My clothes will have been washed by my mother.

Modal verbs

might
Active: My mother might wash my clothes
Passive: My clothes might be washed by my mother.
can
Active: My mother can wash my clothes
Passive: My clothes can be washed by my mother.
must
Active: My mother must wash my clothes
Passive: My clothes must be washed by my mother.

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