Active Voice and Passive Voice

Sentences can be active or passive; we can use the active voice or the passive voice.

The voice changes the focus of the sentence.

Active Voice

Most of the time we use the active voice.

In the active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action. The focus of the sentence is on the person or thing doing the action

The dog bit James.

'The dog' is the subject, 'bit' is the action. The dog does the action.

Passive Voice

In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is affected by the action. The subject does not do the action.

James was bitten by the dog.

'James' is the subject, 'bitten' the action. James is affected by the action, but the dog does the action.

Using the Passive Voice

There are some situations where is it better to use the passive voice:

  1. When the result is more important than the action;
  2. When the person doing the action is unknown;
  3. When we want to avoid responsibility or blame.

An Important Result

In the passive voice, the focus of the sentence is on the person or thing affected by the action. We use the passive voice when the result of the action is more important than the person doing the action.

Penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming.

The discovery of penicillin is the result. The focus of the sentence is on the result, not the person who discovered it.

An Unknown Actor

When we use the passive voivce, we don't need to say who did the action. We use the passsive voice when we don't know who did the action.

My car was stolen.

'My car' is the subject, 'stolen' is the action. We don't know who stole the car.

Avoiding responsibility or blame

We don't need to name the actor when we use the passive voice. We can say that something happened without saying who did it.

In the active voice we always know who did the action.

Active Voice

James has broken the window.

The window is broken. James broke it.

Passive Voice

The window has been broken.

The window is broken. We don't know who broke it.

Making the Passive Voice

The main verb in a passive sentence is always the past participle form.

Subject + be + past participle

Making the Passive Voice
Subject be Past Participle
James was bitten by the dog.
My car was stolen.

'Be' is an auxiliary verb in passive sentences.

You can use the passive voice with most tenses. You change the form of the verb 'be' for different tenses.