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Passive Voice

The passive voice is less usual than the active voice. The active voice is the "normal" voice. But sometimes we need the passive voice. In this lesson we look at how to construct the passive voice, when to use it and how to conjugate it.

Construction of the Passive Voice

The structure of the passive voice is very simple:

subject + auxiliary verb (be) + main verb (past participle)

The main verb is always in its past participle form.

Look at these examples:

subject auxiliary verb (to be)   main verb (past participle)  
Water is   drunk by everyone.
100 people are   employed by this company.
I am   paid in euro.
We are not paid in dollars.
Are they   paid in yen?

Use of the Passive Voice

We use the passive when:

  • we want to make the active object more important
  • we do not know the active subject
  subject verb object
give importance to active object (President Kennedy) President Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald.
active subject unknown My wallet has been stolen. ?

Note that we always use by to introduce the passive object (Fish are eaten by cats).

Look at this sentence:
  • He was killed with a gun.
Normally we use by to introduce the passive object. But the gun is not the active subject. The gun did not kill him. He was killed by somebody with a gun. In the active voice, it would be: Somebody killed him with a gun. The gun is the instrument. Somebody is the "agent" or "doer".

Conjugation for the Passive Voice

We can form the passive in any tense. In fact, conjugation of verbs in the passive tense is rather easy, as the main verb is always in past participle form and the auxiliary verb is always be. To form the required tense, we conjugate the auxiliary verb. So, for example:

  • present simple: It is made
  • present continuous: It is being made
  • present perfect: It has been made

Here are some examples with most of the possible tenses:

infinitive to be washed
simple present It is washed.
past It was washed.
future It will be washed.
conditional It would be washed.
continuous present It is being washed.
past It was being washed.
future It will be being washed.
conditional It would be being washed.
perfect simple present It has been washed.
past It had been washed.
future It will have been washed.
conditional It would have been washed.
perfect continuous present It has been being washed.
past It had been being washed.
future It will have been being washed.
conditional It would have been being washed.

Now check your understanding »

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