Passive Voice in English Grammar

Introduction

We use the passive to emphasise an action. Who or what is performing the action is not important, unknown, or assumed to be general knowledge.

Example

A man was hit by a car. He was injured.

The man has been given first aid and now he is being taken to hospital.

Usage

With the passive, we emphasise what’s happening. The focus is not on the person or thing that is responsible for the action.

Example:
A man was hit by a car.
He was injured.
The man has been given first aid and now he is being taken to hospital.

Conjugation of English Passive Voice

The passive voice in English grammar is formed with the auxiliary verb be and the past participle of the main verb. The form of be changes depending on the tense we are using. We can use the following formula to conjugate the passive voice: subject + form of be + past participle

tenseexample sentence
Simple Present The man is taken to hospital.
Present Progressive The man is being taken to hospital.
Present Perfect The man has been taken to hospital.
Simple Past The man was taken to hospital.
Past Progressive The man was being taken to hospital.
Past Perfect The man had been taken to hospital.
Future Simple (will) The man will be taken to hospital.
Future Simple (going to) The man is going to be taken to hospital.
Future Progressive The man will have been taken to hospital.
Conditional I The man would be taken to hospital.
Conditional II The man would have been taken to hospital.

Info

The tenses present perfect progressive and past perfect progressive do not exist in the passive. Instead we simply use the normal forms of the present perfect and past perfect.

Changing from Active to Passive

When we change the active voice into the passive, this is what happens:

  • The direct object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence.
  • The subject of the active sentence is removed, or added after a by at the end of the sentence.
  • We need the helping verb be in its conjugated form.
  • After be comes the main verb in the past participle.
subjectverbobject
active A car hit the man.
passive The man was hit (by a car)

Table of English Tenses in Active and Passive

This folloing chart provides an overview of English tenses in the active and passive voice.

tenseactivepassive
Simple Present Someone injures the man. The man is injured (by someone).
Present Progressive Someone is injuring the man. The man is being injured (by someone).
Present Perfect Someone has injured the man. The man has been injured (by someone).
Simple Past Someone injured the man. The man was injured (by someone).
Past Progressive Someone was injuring the man. The man was being injured (by someone).
Past Perfect Someone had injured the man. The man had been injured (by someone).
Future I (will) Someone will injure the man. The man will be injured (by someone).
Future I (going to) Someone is going to injure the man. The man is going to be injured (by someone).
Future II Someone will have injured the man. The man will have been injured (by someone).
Conditional I Someone would injure the man. The man would be injured (by someone).
Conditional II Someone would have injured the man. The man would have been injured (by someone).

Passive sentences made from active sentences with 2 objects

When an active sentences has two objects, either one of the objects can become the subject in the passive sentence.

subjectverb formdirect objectindirect object
active Someone has given first aid to him.
passive (personal passive) He has been given first aid (by someone).
passive First aid has been given to him (by someone).

Subject and Object pronouns

When construsting a passive sentence from an active sentence with 2 objects, we have to pay special attention to pronouns. If the object of the active sentence is a pronoun and this pronoun is used as the subject of the passive sentence, we must change it from an object pronoun into a subject pronoun.

Active VoiceObject PronounSubject pronounPassive Voice
He hit me with his car. me I I was hit (by his car).
He hit you with his car. you you You were hit (by his car).
He hit her with his car. her she She was hit (by his car).
He hit him with his car. him he He was hit (by his car).
He hit it with his car. it it It was hit (by his car).
He hit us with his car. us we We were hit (by his car).
He hit them with his car. them they They were hit (by his car).

Passive sentences made from active sentences with no object

Verbs of speech and thought are often used without an object, because they simply introduce a dependent clause. Some typical verbs of speech and thought are: agree, announce, assume, believe, claim, consider, declare, expect, feel, find, know, mention, say, suppose, think, and understand.

We often use the pronoun it for this impersonal form.

Example:
People say that this corner is an accident black spot.
It is said that this corner is an accident black spot.

However, in English we can also make the subject of the dependent clause into the subject of the passive sentence, and then add on the dependent clause as an infinitive construction.

Example:
They say this corner is an accident black spot.
This corner is said to be an accident black spot.