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What Is Passive Voice? (with Examples)

What Is Passive Voice? (with Examples)

A verb is said to be in the passive voice when its subject does not perform the action of the verb. In fact, the action is performed on the subject.

Look at this example of the passive voice:



Here's another example of the passive voice:



Passive voice is a quality of a verb that describes when the subject of a sentence is acted upon by the verb. When the opposite is true (i.e., the subject of the sentence is acting out the verb), it is said to be in active voice.

Comparing the Passive Voice and Active Voice

To identify verbs in the passive voice, you must identify the subject and then determine that it is being acted upon.

Compare these examples of the passive voice and active voice (verbs in the passive verbs shaded):
  • A knife was used to commit the murder.
  • Step 1: Find the subject.
    (In this example, it's A knife.)
    Step 2: Did the subject perform the verb?
    (In this example, the verb is to use, and A knife did not perform the action of the verb. Therefore, was used is a verb in the passive voice. The knife didn't do anything. It was passive. That's the point.)
  • The murderer used a knife.
  • Step 1: Find the subject.
    (In this example, it's The murderer.)
    Step 2: Did the subject perform the verb?
    (In this example, the verb is to use, and The murderer did perform the action of the verb. Therefore, used is a verb in the active voice. The murderer did something. He was active. That's the point.)

    Examples of Verbs in the Passive Voice

    If a verb is in the passive voice, its subject has the action of the verb done to it.

    Some more examples of passive verbs (passive verbs shaded):
    • Everyone was startled by the power outage.
    • A scream was heard coming from across the house.
    • The candles were extinguished as we rushed to the scream.
    • The crime was illuminated shortly by flashes of lightning.
    • She had been murdered.
    • A trap was devised to catch the killer.
    • Lieutenant Lavender was caught by the brilliant detective Educator Emerald.

    "The Agent" Did It!

    In a passive sentence, the person or thing carrying out the action (often called the agent) is introduced with by.

    For example:
    • The cows will be moved after tea by the farm-hands.
    • (Passive sentence)
    • The farm-hands will move the cows after tea.
    • (Active version)

    • All the pies were eaten by Lee.
    • (Passive sentence)
    • Lee ate all the pies.
    • (Active version)

    • The fishing rig was designed by Mark.
    • (Passive sentence)
    • Mark designed the fishing rig.
    • (Active version)

    • The tin of tuna fish was opened by Sasha.
    • (Passive sentence)
    • Sasha opened the tin of tuna fish.
    • (Active version)

    • The printer cartridge was replaced by the engineer.
    • (Passive sentence)
    • The engineer replaced the printer cartridge.
    • (Active version)

    You Might Have to Invent a Subject

    Sometimes, to turn a passive sentence into an active one, you have to create your own subject.

    For example:
    • The crowbar was used to open the window.
    • (Passive sentence)
    • The burglar used a crowbar to open the window.
    • (Active version)

    • Fish that are not popular in the restaurants are discarded.
    • (Passive sentence)
    • They discard the fish that are not popular in the restaurants.
    • (Active version)

    • The engine was fixed.
    • (Passive sentence)
    • He fixed the engine.
    • (Active version)

    • The map had been misplaced.
    • (Passive sentence)
    • Mark misplaced the map.
    • (Active version)
Quick Test
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Click on the passive sentence:



Beware

Grammar Checkers

Grammar checkers will often highlight passive sentences like they're errors.


This happens because they were written for the business environment, where bosses often demand clear, direct language. However, there are advantages to the passive voice too, so don't be bullied by your grammar checker. If you like your passive sentence, ignore your grammar checker.