Passive Voice is a verb form that changes the order of parts of a sentence. The agent (who or what does the action) is not the subject of the verb, which is different from Active voice.
Chinua Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart. (Active)
Things Fall Apart was written by Chinua Achebe. (Passive)
Things Fall Apart was written in 1958. (Passive)
People make cheese with milk. (Active)
Cheese is made with milk. (Passive)
New York is considered the most exciting city in the U.S. (Passive)
You can see that …:
- Passive voice uses the BE-verb (am, is, are, was, were) and the past participle (written, made, found, heard…)
- The subject (the noun before the verb) does not do the action of the verb.
- Sometimes the past participle looks like the past tense (made, found, used)
- We can use the passive for many reasons, such as when the agent is not important or not known.
Also, some verbs are used much more in Passive than Active.
is made / is used / is called
was born / was elected / was established
is found / is held / is associated (with)
is based (on) / is required / is interested (in)
was carried (out) / was recorded
is expected / is allowed / is considered
was arrested / was determined (to be)
it’s widely known / believed that
it’s often heard / assumed that
Common errors are:
- Forgetting the BE-verb in a passive sentence.
She ___ born in Jamaica. (was)
- Using a past tense verb instead of the Passive.
The bag ___ sold online for a cheaper price. (is)
Cell phones ___ carried in our pockets all day. (are)
- Forgetting to switch the order of ideas in the sentence.
Fast food is used a lot of oil.
A lot of oil is used in fast food. / Fast food uses a lot of oil.
Errors often happen when:
- The past participle and past tense form look and sound the same.
The Olympics ___ held in Korea in 2018. (were)
- The passive and active have unfamiliar meanings.
This trip requires new passports.
We ___ required to get new passports passports for this trip. (are / were)
- The passive is part of a relative clause or other complex sentence.
He adopted the dog that ___ found on the street. (was)
He adopted the dog found on the street.
Make a list of the verbs that you often have errors on. Check your essay for these words with Ctrl+F.
Color every verb in your essay and check that the subject makes sense for that verb form.
While you are reading, pay attention to the words around a new vocabulary words. In addition to meaning, language learners also have to learn the collocation (words that are used together).
Teachers: Download a printer-friendly copy of this page and instructor guide.