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Passive Voice

How and when to use the Passive Voice

The passive is recommended in two situations:

  • When it is more important to draw our attention to the person or thing acted upon:

The unidentified victim was apparently struck during the early morning hours.

  • When the actor in the situation (subject) is not important:

The aurora borealis can be observed in the early morning hours.

  • The passive voice is necessary for scientific or technical writing or lab reports, where the do-er is not really important but the process or principle being described is of ultimate importance.
  • Instead of writing, “The scientist poured 20 ml of acid into the beaker,” we would write

Twenty ml of acid was poured into the beaker.

  • The passive voice is also useful when describing, say, a mechanical process in which the details of the process are much more important than anyone’s taking responsibility for the action:

The first coat of primer paint is applied immediately after the acid rinse.

  • We use the passive voice to good effect in a paragraph in which we wish to shift emphasis from what was the object in a first sentence to what becomes the subject in subsequent sentences.

The executive committee approved an entirely new policy for dealing with academic suspension and withdrawal.
The policy had been written by a subcommittee on student behaviour.
The paragraph is clearly about this new policy so it is appropriate that policy move from being the object in the first sentence to being the subject of the second sentence. The passive voice allows for this transition.

Part A. Simple Present and Past Passive

The simple present passive tense is indicated by using the am/is/are forms of be. Note that in every passive sentence, a past participle is used(V3).We use this tense to place the emphasis on the object of the active sentence.   Active: A general always promotes a captain. Passive: A captain is always promoted by a...

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Part B. Omitting the Agent

Part B. Omitting the Agent in some cases, it is obvious as to whether or not to omit the agent, or to remove the 'doer' from the sentence, particularly if the agent is indefinite, for example, people. However, it makes little difference in some sentences. The speaker may wish to include the agent for reasons...

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The Passive Voice with Perfect Tenses

Part C. The Passive Voice with Perfect Tenses the verb be can be in a perfect tense and with the past participle (V3) makes it passive.   When we use the passive voice with perfect tenses, the functions of the tenses remain the same as in the active voice. Present perfect: Use have / has...

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Part D. The Passive Voice with Continuous Tenses

Part D. The Passive Voice with Continuous Tenses The tenses have the same function as in the active voice. Again, the objective is to change the focus of the sentence from the subject to the object of the active sentence.   Past continuous: was / were + being + past participle (V3). The Japanese army...

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Part E. Indirect Objects

Part E. Indirect Objects the direct object and indirect object, can be the subject of the passive sentence.   There are many verbs which can be followed by two objects. We describe them as the direct object and the indirect object.   He gave his girlfriend flowers.                            indirect        direct   We can put the indirect...

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