The Passive Voice in English--Different Tenses, Different Forms

The Passive Voice in English–Different Tenses, Different Forms

Learning the passive voice in English

 The passive voice focuses on the object of a sentence rather than the subject. We use it frequently in English. In this posting I talk about when we use the passive voice and how to form it. Additionally, I talk about using this form of English in many common tenses and forms. There will be a download at the end to give you more practice using this voice.

Let us now explore the passive voice in English.

What is the passive voice?

The passive voice emphasizes the object of the sentence rather than the subject. We form it with the correct form of the verb to be and the past participle of the main verb of the sentence. Look at this example: My purse was stolen last week.  We use the passive voice under two circumstances.

  1. We use the passive voice when we don’t know who did the action. Of course we know that a thief stole my purse, but we don’t know the thief’s name.
  2. The passive voice is used when it is not important who did the action. The fact that my purse was stolen is more important than the thief who stole it. If we said,”A thief stole my purse,” we are making the thief the most important part of the sentence. Thus the meaning is changed somewhat when we use the passive voice rather than the active voice.

The passive voice in different tenses

Below are examples of the passive voice contrasted with the active voice in many common tenses. Here is the formula to used in these sentences: subject + be in the appropriate tense + past participle of the main verb

  1. Simple Present–My car is serviced every three months.  The mechanic services my car every three months.
  2. Present Continuous–My brother’s truck is being repaired right now.  Someone is repairing my brother’s truck right now.
  3. Simple Past–This building was built in 1852. Workers built this building in 1852.
  4. Past Continuous–The schedule was being worked on last week.  Somebody was working on the schedule last week.
  5. Present Perfect–His house has been robbed three times this year.  A thief has robbed his house three times this year.
  6. Past Perfect–I had been promoted at work before I moved to Texas.  They had promoted me at work before I moved to Texas.
  7. Simple Future–The project will be completed (is going to be completed) early next week.  The worker will complete (is going to complete) the project early next week.
  8. Present Conditional–My house would be painted by now is I had the time.  I would paint my house by now if I had the time.
  9. Past Conditional–My car would have been fixed if it were broken.  The mechanic would have fixed my car if it were broken.

The passive voice with infinitives

When you use the passive voice with an infinitive, use this formula: subject + verb that is followed by an infinitive + to be + past participle of the main verb.

  1. You have to be tested to get a driver’s license. 
  2. She wants to be respected at work. 
  3. I expect to be paid for my work. 

The passive voice with gerunds

When the passive voice is used with a gerund, use this formula: subject + verb that is followed by a gerund + being + past participle.

  1. I remember being driven to school as a child. 
  2. My cat likes being pampered and spoiled
  3. My children hated being taken to the dentist when they were small. 

Using the passive voice when you pay someone to do something for you

We can use the passive voice when we don’t do something ourselves, but instead pay someone else to do it for us. Here is the formula to use: subject + have or get + object + past participle

  1. I got my hair styled yesterday.   This means,” I paid the hairdresser to style my hair yesterday.”
  2. My mother will have her teeth cleaned next month.   This sentence means,” My motherwill pay the dentist to clean her teeth next month.
  3. My aunt gets her carpets cleaned every spring.   This means, ” My aunt pays a company to clean her carpets every spring.”

The passive voice with “to be born”

The expression “to be born” is already written in the passive voice. Most of the time we use it in the past tense or the future tense.

  1. I was born in New York. 
  2. Where were you born
  3. My sister’s new baby will be born (is going to be born) in November. 

We do not use this expression in the present tense. We never say, “I am born in New York.” Your birth happened in the past. It is not going on now.

You now know that the passive voice focuses on the object rather than the subject of the sentence. We use it when we do not know who did the action, or when whoever did the action is not important. In addition, we can use the passive voice in almost any common tense. We use the following formula: subject + be verb + past participle. We can also use the passive voice with infinitives and gerunds. When you pay someone to do something for you, we say the following: subject + had or got + object + past participle. Was born, were born, or will be born are already written in the passive voice. We do not use these expressions in the present. The download will give you additional practice understanding and using the passive voice.

You can download the practice sheet now!

Idioms of the day

  1. here goes nothing!–This means that you are going to try something new, but you have no expectations of how it will turn out. I’ve never had Mexican food, but I’ll try a burrito. OK, here goes nothing! 
  2. no two ways about it–This means that only one option or opinion is possible. My boss said that there are no two ways about it. I can’t have my birthday off. 




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