Passive Voice

The passive voice is where the subject is the recipient of the actions described by a verb. It is the opposite of the active voice, in which the subject is the one who performs the verb. A sentence written in the passive voice is called a passive sentence.

What is a passive sentence?

A passive sentence is a sentence that is written in the passive voice, which is where the person or object that receives an action is placed after the actual action itself. It makes it different from the active voice, where the person or thing that acts is placed before the verb which describes the action.

We typically use the passive voice to emphasize the action rather than the subject.

What are some passive sentences examples?

If you’re still wondering, “what is a passive sentence?” then don’t worry! The active and passive voices are complex concepts to make sense of at first, and pupils may find it tricky to tell one from the other.

It’s a lot easier to get the hang of passive sentences with examples to help you, which is why we’ve put together this handy chart. In it, you’ll find a few helpful passive sentence examples. You’ll also see the same sentences written using the active voice on the left side so that you can compare the two.

Active Voice Passive Voice
Albert ate six sausages at dinner. At dinner, six sausages were eaten by Albert.
Mother read my story in a single day. My story was read to my mother in a single day.
Millions of tourists visit Barcelona each year. Barcelona is visited by millions of tourists each year.
The music conductor will give you the notes. The notes will be given to you by the music conductor.

We can tell that the passive sentence examples on the right are written in the passive voice because the noun or subject is placed in a secondary position to the verb. However, when the same sentence is written in the active voice, the subject comes before the verb, and the sentence takes on a firmer, more natural tone.

When do we use the Passive Voice?

Now that you’ve read our definition of the passive voice and looked at a few passive sentence examples, you probably have a pretty good grasp of it. But first, you might wonder how and when we write in the passive voice.

The active voice and passive voice can have vastly different impacts on your reader. For example, people tend to use the active voice rather than the passive voice when writing about a subject acting. An example of this would be ‘the dog loves to fetch.

However, you might be more likely to use passive sentences when formally presenting your work or ideas. Let’s take a look at some of these different uses, along with a few passive sentences examples to help us understand them:

Proper uses of the passive voice:

Here are three widespread uses of the passive voice:

1) To report a crime or incident with an unknown offender:

Jessica’s phone was stolen on the train.

The jewelry shop was ransacked on Monday night.

The man’s computer was hacked.

One of the main reasons these crimes are so severe is that the offender is unknown. In addition, using a passive sentence helps emphasize the actual action of the crimes, i.e., theft, instead of the perpetrator.

2) In a scientific context:

The scientists worked hard in the lab all day.

The subject of the study was placed in an observation room.

The scientist was given an award for his work in the field.

As you can see from these passive sentence examples, the action of the sentences is much more important than the subjects, so passive voice is required.

3) To emphasize action over the person carrying out the action

The band was inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame.

The teacher was given a pile of homework to mark over the weekend.

The girl was selected to take part in a considerable swimming competition.

In these passive sentence examples, the person acting can be dismissed as irrelevant, and including them would be a distraction. You must use your best judgment to decide whether the subject of a sentence is more or less important than the action being carried out.

Everyday uses of the passive voice:

Now that we’ve explored how we might use the passive voice in a more formal context let’s explore how it can also be used in informal ways to make writing a bit more interesting.

Using the passive voice as a stylistic choice to shift around the emphasis in your writing is a fun, creative, and sophisticated way to spice up your work.

Here are some examples of creative uses of the passive voice:

1) To avoid blame

One creative use of the passive voice is to avoid getting blamed the blame onto someone else. In this case, the subject will not directly implicate someone else but merely make sure to appear innocent.

For example:

“Mistakes were made.”

2) To direct the reader’s attention to certain things

As we know, the passive voice focuses primarily on the action than on the person or thing carrying it out. It allows us to divert the reader’s attention to what was done rather than who did it, effectively creating a sense of surprise or mystery in a piece of writing.

Misusing the Passive Voice:

Now that we’re no longer in the dark about what a passive sentence is and we’ve looked at a few passive sentences examples, let’s look at some of the ways they can be misused:

1) Misidentifying passive voice:

Sometimes, what may appear to be a passive sentence isn’t passive at all. For example:

The teacher was pleased when she saw the students’ test scores.

While, at first glance, this sentence appears to use the passive voice, it doesn’t. In this sentence, ‘pleased’ is used as an adjective, and ‘was’ is used as a linking verb.

2) When passive voice is misused:

The passive voice can be super effective when we know what it is and how a passive sentence should be used. However, it can be tricky to get right. Passive voice misuse or unnecessary overuse of passive sentences can make your writing look clunky, awkward, and hard to read.

If you spot passive voice misuse in your writing, don’t panic, as it’s pretty simple to fix. For the most part, passive voice misuse can be fixed by changing a passive voice sentence into an active one.

There are three easy steps you must take to make this change:

  1. Identify the person or thing that is acting being described by the verb in the sentence. It will then become the subject of your new active voice sentence.
  2. Take the ‘be’ verb out of your sentence and turn the past participle into a correctly conjugated verb. This new verb must agree with your unique subject.
  3. Identify the subject of the old passive voice sentence and turn it into a direct object.

When will children learn about the passive voice?

Pupils will likely encounter active and passive voices and active and passive verbs when they reach key stage 2. According to the national curriculum, pupils in year six will be able to ‘use the passive to affect the presentation of information in a sentence.

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