Passive Voice - Quynh Huong Center for Foreign Language Translation & Education

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4 Aug 2014

Passive Voice

a. Form: S + BE + Past Participle (PP)
b. Uses:
  • The object of an active verb becomes the subject of a passive verb. Notice the use of "by" in the passive sentence. Ex: Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. => Hamlet was written by Shakespeare.
  • The passive is not another way of expressing the same sentence in the active. We choose the active or the passive depending on what we are more interested in. Ex: Hamlet was written in 1600. (We are more interested in Hamlet). She gave me a book for my birthday. => I was given a book for my birthday./ A book was give for my birthday.
  • The passive: very often "by" and the agent are omitted in passive sentence. This might be because the agent is not known, or the agent is not important, or we understand who the agent is. Ex: my flat was burgled last night. This bridge was built in 1990. I was fined 20$ for speeding.
  • The passive is associated with an impersonal, formal style. It is often used in notices and announcements. Ex: customers are requested to refrain from smoking. It has been noticed that reference books have been removed from the library.
  • In Informal language, we often use "you, we, and they" to refer to people in general or to no person in particular. In this way we can avoid using the passive. Ex: they are building a new department store in the city centre. You can buy stamps in lots of store, not just post offices. We speak English in this shop.
Note: be careful! Many past participles are used more like adjectives. Ex: I am exhausted! I have been working all day. We were worried about you. Aren't you bored by the new?

PRESENT SIMPLE: S + Is/ Are/ Am + Past Participle (PP)
Ex: English is spoken all over the world. Renault cars are made in France. I am punished by my teacher. Where is rice grown?
Note: the rules for tense usage in the passive are the same as in the active present simple to express habit. Ex: my car is serviced regularly.

PRESENT CONTINUOUS: S + Is/ Are/ Am + Being + Past Participle (PP)
Ex: the police are questioning him. => He is being questioned by the police. I am reading a book. => The book is being read by me.

PRESENT PERFECT: S + Has/ Have + Been + Past Participle (PP)
Ex: I have been robbed! They haven't been invited to the party. Has my car been repaired?
Note: present perfect to express an action which began in the past and continues to the present. Ex: Diet coke has been made since 1982.

PAST SIMPLE: S + Was/ Were + Past Participle (PP)
Ex: the manager sacked us. => We were sacked by the manager. My car was stolen last night. He was injured in the accident.

Note: past simple to express a finished action in the past. Ex: America was discovered by Christopher Columbus.

PAST CONTINUOUS: S + Was/ Were + Being + Past Participle (PP)
Ex: he was reading a newspaper when I came. => A newspaper was being read when I came. When I met her yesterday, she was buying some pens. => Some pens were being bought when I met her yesterday.

PAST PERFECT: S + Had Been + Past Participle (PP)
Ex: I had made a decision before 10 o'clock last night. => a decision had been made by me before 10 o'clock last night. He had finished his work. => His work had been finished.

SIMPLE FUTURE: S + Will/ Shall + Be + Past Participle (PP)
Ex: the mailman will deliver the letters. => The letters will be delivered by the mailman. 10000 cars will be produced next year. Will the children be sent to a new school? They are going to play are going to play the game. => The game is going to be played.

FUTERE PERFECT: S + Will/ Shall + Have Been + Past Participle (PP)
Ex: I shall have received my doctor degree by next month. => My doctor degree will have been received by next month. The book won't have been published yet.

MODAL AUXILIARY VERBS: S + Modal Verbs + Be + Past Participle (PP)
Ex: he can speak English ? English can be spoken by him. The house must be repaired. Books should be read.

It is said/ thought...
  • We use this pattern with verbs of reporting. Ex: People said that 13 is unlucky.? It is said that the number 13 is unlucky. It is thought that the paining is genuine.
  • Some verbs in this pattern are: "accept, agree, announce, argue, assume, believe, claim, decide, except, feel, find, hope, know, notice, predict, realize, report, see, show, state, suggest, understand..."
...said to be...
  • This pattern involves a passive verb of reporting and a: to + Vinf. Ex: we were expected to win, but we lost. A man is believed to have been killed. The number 13 is said to be unlucky.
  • Some verbs in this pattern are: "expect, feel, find, know, mean, prove, report, say, see, show, state, suppose, think, understand...
The passive with "get"
  • We sometimes form the passive with "get" rather than with "be". Ex: luckily I got accepted at art school. Lots of people get killed on the roads.
  • We can also use "get" for something happening incidentally, as part of a larger operation. But is not used for a planned action. Ex: this dustbin gets emptied once a week. The railway was privatized in the 1990s.
  • We use "do" in simple tense negatives and questions. Ex: how often do rugby players get injured? The bins didn't get emptied yesterday.
Have/ get something done
  • This pattern means: "cause something to be done". We use it mainly to talk about professional services to a customer. "Get" is little Informal. Ex: I had my car serviced. I got my hair cut.
  • We can also use "get" Informally for a job we do ourselves. Ex: I must get my homework done. We got everything packed and ready.
Have something happen
  • This pattern has the same form as "have something done". It often refers to an unpleasant experience. Ex: we had a window broken in the storm. My sister has had some money stolen.

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