Active & Passive Voices


                       Active & Passive voice


Voice is used to show relationships between the action and the people affected by it.

 It shows whether the subject of a sentence is doing the action, or having the action done to it.

 There are two voices in English; the passive and the active.


1.If the subject is the agent or actor of the verb in a sentence, the verb is in the active voice.

2. When the subject is the target of the action, it is said to be in the passive voice.

 Active Voice 

 We say things in the active voice when we want to show who or what has done something. In the active voice the agent (the person or thing that does something) becomes the subject of the sentence. 


She cleaned the office." (Who cleaned the office? She did=the subject)

He stole my car." (Who stole my car? He did=the subject)

The active voice uses fewer words than the pompous sounding passive voice. Some tests often include passive constructions that need revision.

 Passive Voice 

 The passive forms of a verb are created by combining a form of the "to be verb" with thepast participle of the main verb.

Other helping verbs are also sometimes present:

 Example    "The rock could have been moved in the area."

The passive can be used, also, in various tenses. Let's take a look at the passive forms of "design."
  Passive Verb Formation 
Tense/conditionalSubjectAuxiliaryPast Participle
PresentThe car/carsisaredesigned
Present progressiveThe car/carsis beingare beingdesigned
Present perfect simpleThe car/carshas beenhave beendesigned
Present perfect progressiveThe car/carshas been beinghave been beingdesigned
PastThe car/carswasweredesigned
Past progressiveThe car/carswas beingwere beingdesigned
Past perfect simpleThe car/carshad beenhad beendesigned
Past perfect progressiveThe car/carshad been beinghad been beingdesigned
FutureThe car/carswill bewill bedesigned
Future progressiveThe car/carswill be beingwill be beingdesigned
Future perfect simpleThe car/carswill have beenwill have beendesigned
Future perfect progressiveThe car/carswill have been beingwill have been beingdesigned
Simple conditionalThe car/carswould bewould bedesigned
Progressive conditionalThe car/carswould be beingwould be beingdesigned
Perfect simple conditionalThe car/carswould have beenwould have beendesigned
Perfect progressive conditionalThe car/carswould have been beingwould have been beingdesigned
Tense/conditionalSubjectAuxiliaryPast Participle

  A sentence cast in the passive voice will not always include an agent of the action.

if the guy breaks a glass, we could say :

"The glass was broken by the guy."

But a perfectly good sentence would leave out the guy: "The glass was broken."

  Also, when an active sentence with an indirect object is recast in the passive, theindirect object can take on the role of subject in the passive sentence:



・She sent James the letter.(James is an indirect object)
・They gave him money. (Him is an indirect object)


・She sent the letter to James.
・They gave money to him.


 Sometimes you may want to use the passive voice but wish to mention who carried out the action. This is called passive with agent and the agent is usually introduced with the word "by".

・The letter was sent to James by her.
・The money was given to him by them.


 We particularly use the passive voice when we don't know or aren't bothered exactlywho has done something. This is called passive without agent where the recipient of the action becomes the subject.

・James was sent the letter.
・He was given money.

Verbals in Passive Structures

Verbals (Non-finite verb) or verb forms can also take on features of the passive voice. An infinitive phrase in the passive voice, for instance, can perform various functions within a sentence (just like the active forms of the infinitive). 

 Subject   To be elected by my peers is a great honor. 

 Object  ・That child really likes to be read to by her mother. 

 Modifier  ・ Grasso was the first woman to be elected governor in her own right. 

The same is true of passive gerunds.

 Subject   Being elected by my peers was a great thrill. 

 Object  ・I really don't likebeing lectured to by my boss. 

 Modifier  ・I am so tired of being lectured to by my boss. 

Personal Passive

 Personal Passive simply means that the object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence. So every verb that needs an object (transitive verb) can form a personal passive. 


Active voice ▶Personal Passive voice:

・The professor explained the exercise to the students.
・The professor explained the students the exercise.

▶・The students were explained the exercise.
▶・The exercise was explained to the students.

We very often leave out the "by-agent" in the passive sentence (here: by the professor).

Impersonal Passive

 Verbs without an object (intransitive verb) normally cannot form a personal passive sentence (as there is no object that can become the subject of the passive sentence).

  If you want to use an intransitive verb in passive voice, you need an impersonal construction – therefore this passive is called Impersonal Passive.


he says ▶ it is said

Impersonal Passive is not as common in English as in some other languages (e.g. German, Latin). In English, Impersonal Passive is only possible with *verbs of perception .
*verbs of perception

Verbs of perception tend not to take -ing


・Think (as inpersonal verb)
・Say (as inpersonal verb)
・know (as inpersonal verb)
and …


They say that women live longer than men.
It is said that women live longer than men.

They say that women live longer than men. ⇩⇩⇩
Women are said to live longer than men. 

The phrase" It is said ..." is an impersonal passive construction. We often use it in news.

 The subject of the subordinate clause (women) goes to the beginning of the sentence; the verb of perception is put into passive voice.

 The rest of the sentence is added using an infinitive construction with 'to' (certain auxiliary verbs and "that" are dropped).

  Sometimes the term Personal Passive is used in English lessons if the indirect object of an active sentence is to become the subject of the passive sentence.


When you can't use the passive

 Only transitive verbs (those that take objects) can be transformed into passive constructions.

But sometimes some intransitive verb (impersonal verb) can be passive form with impersonal passive construction. (such as it is said~)

 Furthermore, active sentences containing certain verbs cannot be transformed into passive structures. ”To have” is the most important of these verbs.

  We can say "He has a new car," but we cannot say "A new car is had by him.

" We can say "Josefina lacked finesse," but we cannot say "Finesse was lacked." Here is a brief list of such verbs*:

・look like
・agree with