The Passive: Full detail about ACTIVE & PASSIVE VOICE

The passive voice is used when the agent is unimportant, unknown, and unnecessary or when it is too obvious. The passive voice form is a special structure in English that we use to show interest in the person or object that experiences an action rather than the person or object that performs the action. As the use of Passive in English is vast, It is highly necessary to learn detail about Active Voice and Passive Voice. You may feel a little confused initially but when you learn it step-by-step you will understand it completely.

What is Active and Passive Voice?

When a sentence is written in the active voice, the sentence’s the subject performs the action; in the passive voice, the subject receives the action or the target of the action is the main focus.

In academic writing, it is generally preferred to choose an active verb and pair it with a subject that names the person or thing doing or performing the action. The passive voice is typically formed with a form of the verb be—such as is, was, or has been—and the past participle of the verb (V3), For example, “Homework is done regularly by students.” Although sometimes criticized for being evasive, the passive voice can be useful when someone wants to emphasize an action that has taken place or when the agent of an action is unknown, as is often the case in news coverage.

Examples of Active Voice and Passive Voice

  1. We do our homework regularly (in this school).
  2. Homework is done regularly (in this school).

In 1, who does the work? We. We do (what?). “Homework’.  So, ‘we’ is the subject and ‘homework’ is the object. The verb ‘do’ is a transitive verb.

In 2, the subject is ‘homework’ and the verb has been changed to ‘is done’ ‘is’ is a form of the auxiliary verb ‘be’ and ‘done’ is the past participle form (third or V3 or –en form ) of the verb ‘do’. So, an auxiliary ‘be’ and the –en form of the main or full verb indicates the passive voice of that main verb.

Both sentences mean almost the same thing. In 1, the speaker talks about one of their regular activities. In 2, the speaker talks about homework. In 1, the focus is on the speaker ‘we’. In 2, the focus is on an activity, ‘homework’, Sentence 1 is in the active voice and 2 is in the passive voice.

Explanation of Passive Voice for Affirmative Sentence

You have seen that in a passive sentence, the agent (subject of the active form) is usually not mentioned. We usually do not say:

2. (b) Homework is done regularly by us.

When the agent or the doer of the action is insignificant, unknown, too obvious, or purposefully hidden, we use the passive voice. So, in most of the passive sentences, the agent is not mentioned. Occasionally, it may be necessary to mention the agent. e.g.

3.         The child was saved by Raghuvi.

Now, look at the following sentences changed into the passive form.

4.         We grow rice once a year. > Rice is grown once a year.

5.         We elected him monitor. >He was elected monitor.

6.         The kind man gave the beggar some food. >The beggar was given some food.

7.         The kind man gave some food to the beggar. > Some food was given to the beggar.

Mark the agent, the subject and the object in 6 and 7. Verbs having two objects can have two passive forms.

Explanation of Passive Voice for Interrogative Sentence

Now watch how interrogative sentences are turned into the passive sentences.

8. Did he write the poem?

He did write the poem? (step-I)

He wrote the poem. (step-II)

The poem was written by him. (step-III)

Was the poem written by him? (step-IV)

9. Who saved the bird?

Someone saved the bird. (step-I)

The bird was saved by someone. (step-II)

The bird was saved by whom? * (not acceptable) (step-III)

By whom was the bird saved? (Step-IV)

Or, who was the bird saved by?

Thus you find the interrogative sentence may be turned into a declarative sentence.

Then it is passivised and again turned into an interrogative sentence. With a little practice, you can go from the first sentence in the active voice to the last sentence in the passive voice.

The passive without an agent.

We have already read that the passive is used when the agent is unimportant, unknown, and unnecessary or when it is too obvious. So look at these sentences being changed to the passive forms:

16. Someone has stolen my purse. > My purse has been stolen.

17. You kept me waiting. > I was kept waiting.

18. People speak Oriya in this state. > Oriya is spoken in this state.

 It will be unusual to mention the agent in each of these sentences. In 16, the thief is not known. In 17, I am accusing the listener for having kept me waiting. Obviously, the agent is the listener. In 18, the language must be spoken by people, not by animals or birds.

The Passive voice with Prepostion+ Agent.

Sometimes the agent is mentioned along with other prepositions but not with by + agent.

19. Smoke filled the room. > The room was filled with smoke.

20. His behaviour surprised me. > I was surprised at his behaviour.

21. I know him. > He is known to me.

In 21, ‘known’ may be considered as an adjective and therefore, it may not really be the passive of the active form. For comparison, consider the passive sentence without the agent. e.g.,

21.(b) He is known.

It means everyone knows him. He is so popular.

Sentence Structure of Active and Passive voice

Present Simple

Present Progressive

Present Perfect

Present Perfect Progressive

Past Simple

Past Progressive

Past Perfect

Past Perfect Progressive

Future Progressive

Future Perfect

Future Perfect Progressive

Passive Exercise


Some of the following sentences are in the active voice and some are in the passive. Write A for active and P for passive against each of them.

  1. Water is produced by the combination of Hydrogen and Oxygen.
  2. I do not like cartoon shows.
  3. You must not eat so much.
  4. Who was given the first prize?
  5. Who has broken this glass?
  6. Who gave away the prizes?
  7. He was asked several questions by the police.
  8. It is time for a doctor to be called in.
  9. I have painted this picture.
  10. The classroom has been cleaned by the students.


Change the following sentences into the passive.

  1. We eat rice and fish in this part of the county.
  2. The king built this temple in the twelfth century.
  3. The customs officers seized the boat.
  4. The child has fed the cow.
  5. You must not take such a big risk.


Change the following sentences into the passive voice:

  1. Who wrote this letter?
  2. When did you write this letter?
  3. Why did you write this letter?
  4. Did you write this letter yesterday?
  5. Has everyone received the message?
  6. Have they heard the news?

The Passive >To have been

10.       (a) People say (that) he is honest. à It is said that he is honest. It will be unusual to say – that he is honest is said by the people. So, it’ has been used in the subject position instead of ‘that he is honest’. But another passive form is also possible, e.g.,

10.       (b) He is said to be honest.

In this case, the verb say has been passivised to is said. But the other verb ‘is’ is changed into to be.

Compare these two passive forms with the following.

11. (a) People say (that) he was honest.

11. (b) It is said that he was honest.

11. (c). He is said to have been honest.

Notice that to be in 10(b) has changed into to have been in 11(c). Why? Compare the tenses of the verbs in the corresponding active forms: 10(a) and 11(a).


Rewrite the following passive sentences beginning with the words given:

  1. It is said that the Sultan is very rich. The Sultan…………
  2. It is said that three men were arrested after the explosion. There men……………
  3. It is expected that the government will increase the price of petrol. The government ………….
  4. It is thought that the prisoner escaped by climbing over the wall. The prisoner…………
  5. It is reported that two people were seriously injured in the accident. Two people …………

12. I saw him crossing the road. à He was seen crossing the road.

13. I saw him cross the road à He was seen to cross the road.

In the passive form of 13, there is an extra ‘to’.  In the active form ‘to’ has not been used. Verbs like let, see, hear etc. are followed by bare infinitives (=infinitive without to) when they are in the active voice. When passivised, the bare infinitives change into to +infinitive.


Change the following sentences into the passive voice. You may use the hints given in the brackets.

  1. You have to see it carefully. (It…..)
  2. We saw the thieves entering the house quietly. (The thieves…..)
  3. It is time to ring the bell. (It is time for the bell….)
  4. He gave me a book yesterday. (I…/A book…..)
  5. They made him tell them everything. (He….)

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