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The Passive Voice

A.USE
The passive voice is much more frequently used in English than in Spanish. In the passive
form the focus is moved from the subject to the direct object of active sentences.
ACTIVE:Jim watched American Pie.
Subj.

PASSIVE:

D.O.

American Pie was watched by Jim.

With the passive form, we emphasize the film and not the person who watched it (Jim)
The passive is associated with an impersonal, formal style. It is often used in notices:
English (is) spoken.
B.FORM
B.1. The passive of an active tense is formed by putting the verb to be into the same tense as
the active verb and adding the past participle of the active verb.
ACTIVE:
PASSIVE:

We keep the butter here.


The butter is kept here.

ACTIVE:
PASSIVE:

Peter broke the window.


The window was broken by Peter.

Active tenses and their passive equivalents:


TENSE

ACTIVE VOICE

PASSIVE VOICE

Simple Present

keeps

is kept

Present Continuous

is keeping

is being kept

Simple Past

kept

was kept

Past continuous

was keeping

was being kept

Present Perfect

has kept

has been kept

Future

will keep

will be kept

Conditional

would keep

would be kept

Infinitive

to keep

to be kept

B.2. The subject of the active tense becomes the agent of the passive sentence and it is
preceded by the preposition BY.
ACTIVE:

Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.


Subject

PASSIVE:

D.O.

Hamlet was written by Shakespeare.


Subject

Agent

B.2.1. Many times the agent is not mentioned because:


Its not known:
The bank was robbed last night.
Its not important:
This house was built in 1953.
We understand who the agent is: I was fined for speeding.
B.3. With verbs such as give, offer, tell, ask, send, show, teach, pay we have two ways of
forming the passive:
ACTIVE:

They offered a job to her daughter.


D.O.

PASSIVE1:

I.O.

A job was offered to her daughter.


Subject

The direct object becomes subject in the passive.


PASSIVE2:

Her daughter was offered a job.


Subject

The indirect object becomes subject in the passive.


Although both forms of passive transformation are possible, English speakers prefer the
second one because the focus is on people and not on things.
B.4. Sentences of the type People consider / think / know, etc have two possible passive
forms.
ACTIVE:

People said that he was jealous of her.


subject (main clause)

PASSIVE1:

subject (subordinate clause)

It is said that he was jealous of her.


Subject

The subject is always it and the verb of the main / introductory clause is passive.
PASSIVE 2:

He is said to be jealous of her.


Subject

infinitive

The subject in the subordinate clause in the active voice becomes the subject in the passive
voice. The passive verb is the introductory verb and the verb in the subordinate clause
becomes an infinitive.
Other verbs which can be found in this passive structures are: agree, assume, believe, claim,
consider, expect, feel, find, hope, know, presume, report, say, think, understand, etc.