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Using Active and Passive Voices in English

English is a diverse language. To emphasize certain states and aspects, we can use words in the active and passive voices. For example, we can shift the focus of attention from the subject of the action to its object. It allows us to emphasize a certain point and clarify important details and omit irrelevant information. However, it is not the only difference between active and passive voices.

Essential features of active and passive voice

There are two verb states in English, active and passive. The active voice is used when we want to emphasize the performer of an action. It shows that the subject in the form of a person or an object itself performs the action.

Examples:

  • ✔️ This great filmmaker creates the pearls of world cinema.
  • ✔️ My grandma baked my favorite cinnamon apple pie.
  • ✔️ Antonio is writing notes for tomorrow's exam.

From these examples, we see that the subject independently produces the action and is known to us. The active voice is formed according to the rules of all 12 tenses and, in each case, expresses the active action of the subject.

As for the passive voice, it is a grammatical construction that is used when we do not know who is performing the action or that subject is irrelevant. With it, we emphasize the action rather than the performer.

Examples:

  • ✔️ These houses were built during the Renaissance.
  • ✔️ Unfortunately, valuable artifacts were stolen from the museum.
  • ✔️ World sports events are broadcasted on this channel every week.
  • ✔️ These celebrations were recently banned due to quarantine.

Thus, we see that in these sentences, we emphasize the action itself without naming the person who performed it.

In what cases do we use passive

  • The performer of the action is unknown or understood from the context.

    Example:

    ✔️ Their mansion was robbed.

  • It is the action that counts, not the subject.

    Example:

    ✔️ Next year there will be held a large-scale festival of national costumes.

  • Commonly known facts.

    Example:

    ✔️ This historical event is remembered around the world.

  • Culinary recipes.

    Example:

    ✔️ The vegetables are stewed over low heat and mixed with the dough.

  • To express a formality.

    Example:

    ✔️ The board meeting was canceled for unknown reasons.

  • In scientific texts

    Example:

    ✔️ Laboratory analysis of this substance has been performed several times.

  • Description of negative events.

    Example:

    ✔️ The load was not securely attached, which caused an accident.

The passive voice is also often found in fiction and is used to create a mysterious atmosphere when the reader does not know a character. Most often, this construction is used in detective novels.

How the passive voice is formed

The passive voice has one simple formula, the use of the verb To be in each tense form and the Past Participle or third form of the verb. That is, To be + V3 or To be + Past Participle. The third form of the verb always remains the same, no matter what grammatical tense it stands in. This makes it easier to remember the passive voice construction. To understand which tense the sentence refers to, you need to pay attention to the form of the verb to be. It acts as an auxiliary verb for each category of tenses.

Tense Forming the active form Passive example
Present Simple I/We/You/They + infinitive He/She/It +verb + -s (-es) These masterpieces are created in our era.
This flower is cultivated in the southern part of France.
Present Continuous Am/Is/Are + verb + (ing) or Am/Is/Are + not + verb + (ing) This story is being told right now.
These books are now being sold at the market near the square.
Present Perfect I / You / We / They → have + (not) + V3
She / He / It → has + (not) + V3
He has been accused of a terrible crime.
Recently they have been invited to a theme party.
Past Simple I/He/She/It/We/You/They + 2nd verb form or -ed or + not These buildings were restored in the early 20th century.
Ancient manuscripts were not found after the war.
Past Continuous To be+ was/were + (not) + -ing This story was being written for six months.
The meat was being roasted when I got home.
Past Perfect I/We/You/They + had + (not) + V3
He/She/It + had + (not) + V3
The order had been given before the commander arrived.
The reports had not been turned in before I was retired.
Future Simple I/You/We/They/He/She/It + will + (not) + infinitive Our story will be told to our grandchildren.
In a few years, several million industrial units will be produced.
Future Perfect I/You/We/They/He/She/It + have + (not) + V3/ed The flower will have been planted by our parents.
His dreams will not have been shattered.

Conclusion

We have familiarized ourselves with so frequently used grammatical construction as the passive voice and studied typical cases of its use. We also identified the main distinguishes between active and passive verbs and found out what purpose they are used for and what they focus on. Use it to your advantage in writing.

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