Grammar Lesson: Passive Voice

Why do we use the passive voice?

The passive form is an emphatic tense, which dramatizes the main ‘action’ of a sentence. When using English, it is usually the subject which causes the ‘action’ of the sentence and as a result, directly affects the object. These are known as ‘active’ sentences. Let’s take a look at the following examples:

1. Josh hit the tennis ball
2. Ashley ate an an apple

In sentences 1. and 2., we can see both subjects (Josh and Ashley) having a direct impact on the objects of each sentence (the tennis ball and an apple). However, by using the passive voice we can shift the emphasis in each sentence by making the object become the subject as follows:

3. The tennis ball was hit by Josh
4. An apple was eaten by Ashley

By looking at 3) and 4), it is clear that the the items in the sentence receiving the action have become more important than the people providing it. Yes, both Josh and Ashley remain ‘active agents’, however, our focus has moved towards the actual ‘things’ being affected. The tennis ball and An apple are ‘passive’ and have become the more important elements in in each sentence.

How do we form the passive voice?

The grammatical structure to form passive sentences is simple!

Subject (Passive) + Aux. Verb (to be) + Past Participle + Object (Active)

5. Traffic in London city centre was heavily affected by the recent snow storm

More often than not, we find these passive sentences in newspapers, or even, hear such language when listening to current affairs. For example, although a terrible hurricane hit New Orleans, the passive voice can display a shift in emphasis, from the destructive hurricane to the city of New Orleans itself: 6. New Orleans was hit by a terrible hurricane

Now take a look at the following sentences and decide and whether the subject is ‘active’ or ‘passive’. (Try to identify the past participle in those that are ‘passive’)

7. Nathan spent his weekends in Berkeley
8. The Taiwanese buffet was prepared by Katie
9. The 2008 Olympic Games were held in Beijing, China
10. Unfortunately, Timothy missed his flight to Rome
10. The classroom was beautifully decorated by Partow and Jessica
12. EC Language Centres were established in Malta