Stage 5 Stage 6 Stage 7

Today we are going to look at the Active and Passive Voice, and specifically look at the uses of the Passive Voice in everyday conversation and writing. We normally speak in the Active Voice, but sometimes it is necessary and very useful to speak in the Passive Voice. So let’s have a look at some of the ways we can use it.

Download Exercise

The Passive Voice in use

· The first use of the Passive Voice is when we don’t know who did the action. It is very difficult to say who did the action when you don’t know, so we can use the Passive Voice and either miss out the “by” part of the section or just say “by someone”. For example,

My car has been stolen (by someone).

Obviously, if you have woken up to find your car stolen you are probably not going to know who stole it, so we use the Passive Voice here.


· The second use of the Passive Voice is when we don’t want to say who did the action. When I was a kid, we had a bulldog and when we were running around the house or the yard we sometimes broke something. Usually it was me that broke it. Now, obviously I didn’t want to get myself into trouble so I would say:

‘The bowl was broken, but I don’t know what happened’.

More than likely it was me that broke the bowl, but my mother didn’t need to know that, or I could have just blamed the dog for it. Either way, using the passive voice was the right way to go there.


· The third use of the Passive Voice is when it is not necessary to know who did the action. This is often used when we are talking about buildings and other structures. For example:

‘This building was constructed in 1967’.

The most important piece of information needed here is the year it was built. Who built it is generally not necessary to know.


·The fourth use of the Passive Voice is when it is obvious who does the action. We often use this for actions that are done by specific people so it is not necessary to say who did the action because most people will be able to work it out for themselves. For example:

‘The man was arrested yesterday after the robbery’.

It doesn’t take much to understand that the man was arrested by the police, because that is who normally arrest people. You could also use it for The man was operated on last night. It is fairly obvious that a doctor or surgeon operated on them, so we don’t need to mention that.


·Another use of the Passive Voice that is more of a handy little trick, is when you are trying to see if a verb is transitive or intransitive. If you can put the sentence in the Passive Voice, then the verb is transitive. If you can’t, then the verb is more likely to be intransitive. This doesn’t always work though, especially in the case of a sentence with a transitive verb where the object isn’t stated, such as: The man ate at 6pm. The verb ‘to eat’ is always transitive, but we haven’t mentioned what the man ate so it is impossible to put it into the Passive Voice in this case. But in general this little trick might help you to differentiate between transitive and intransitive verbs.


Practice what you’ve learned with the exercise.


K. Charles
Callan Team

. Trask, R.L. (1993). “A dictionary of Grammatical terms in linguistics”. London: New York.

Download Exercise