Passive Voice

This slideshow page is to explain and give practice on the passive voice.

On this page: Explanation | Exercise

It is common to use passive structures in academic writing because in many cases, the agent (the person/people/organisation etc. who do/does the action) of an action is less important than the action itself. You form the passive by using a form of the auxiliary be (e.g. am, is, are, was, were, been, be) and the past participle of a main verb (e.g. written, spoken, listened). Past participles are also used in present perfect verbs; e.g. I have written an essay, and are sometimes different from past tense verbs; e.g. I wrote an essay.

  • The data were gathered between June and August 2004.
  • Many books have been written about space exploration.
  • This medicine can be used only on patients who have no allergic conditions.
  • The greenhouse effect is reported to be the main cause of global warming.

Passive structures are impossible with intransitive verbs (which do not take objects; e.g. arrive) as there is nothing to become the subject of the passive sentence (e.g. Wrong: The party was arrived at by me. Correct: I arrived at the party.). Stative verbs, which refer to states rather than actions, are also seldom used in the passive.

  • The incident happened back in 1965. [This is correct, and is not passive voice, as happen is an intransitive verb.]
  • The incident was happened back in 1965. [This is wrong.]
  • We lacked support from the government. [This is correct, and is not passive voice, as lack is a stative verb]
  • Support was lacked from the government. [This is wrong.]

Some other stative verbs are: seem, have, suit and resemble.


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Last updated on: Friday, February 01, 2013