Verbs : Active and Passive

These two different ways of using verbs are known as voices. In everyday writing, the active voice is much more common than the passive. The passive tends to be used in formal documents such as official reports or scientific papers.

A verb can be either active or passive. The way in which you word a sentence determines whether a verb is active or passive.,

When the verb is active, the subject of the verb is doing the action, as in these examples:

  • Germany beat England on penalties in the final.
  • Millions of British tourists travel to Spain every year.
  • Dad will take the car to the garage.

When the verb is passive, the subject undergoes the action of the verb rather than doing it:

  • England was beaten in the final on penalties.
  • Spain is visited by millions of British tourists every year.
  • The car was taken to the garage by Dad

Here, the sentences’ points of view have changed: England, Spain, and the car have become the subjects of the passive verbs was beaten, is visited, and was taken. In the first example, you can see that the subject of the active verb (Germany) does not appear in the passive version of the sentence.

In the other two passive examples, the former subjects of the active verbs (millions of British tourists and Dad) are now introduced with the word ‘by’.

The passive is formed by using tenses of the auxiliary verb ‘to be’ and the past participle of the main verb.

Here is a table showing the passive forms for many English verbs:

Tense Passive  Example
present simple am/are/is + past participle He is rushed out of the house in the mornings by his dad
present continuous am/are/is being + past participle We are being chased.
present perfect have/has been + past participle Have you been asked if you would like a drink?
past simple was/were + past participle We were informed that we were late.
past continuous was/were being + past participle Their windows were being broken by some hooligans.
past perfect had been + past participle Her brother had been taken to hospital in an ambulance in India.
future will be + past participle The protesters will be made to pack up their belongings and leave.
future perfect will have been + past participle All the packages will have been sent to your home address.
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