Let’s look at a sentence in the active voice:
~Hank wrote the script.
In the active voice, the subject does the action. Hank, the subject, does the action to the object, the script. Now let’s look at that same sentence in the passive voice:
~The script was written by Hank.
Now the script is the subject, and it doesn’t do the action, it receives the action. Note that the tense of the verb in the active voice is crucial for determining the tense of the verb “to be” in the passive voice. To demonstrate this further, let’s take a look at another example:
Active voice: We are going to cook the chicken.
Passive voice: The chicken is going to be cooked by us.
This example is a bit cheeky, because the verb in the active voice is in the infinitive. Therefore, when we put the sentence into the passive voice, the verb “to be” is in the infinitive. Conjugation headache avoided!
Considering we’ve said that the passive voice is much less common than the active voice, you must be wondering why the passive voice even exists, and why we use it. Well, there are four common situations in which we use it, which are helpful to remember when deciding exactly what it is you want to communicate in a sentence.
. The first situation is when we don’t know who does the action in a sentence. Consider the following sentence: “My bike was stolen last night.” In this example, it’s possible to use the active voice and say “somebody stole my bike last night,” but the passive voice construction is perhaps more common.
. The second situation is when we don’t want to say who does the action. For example: “Decisions were made and I’m sorry but we’re going to have to let you go.” The speaker doesn’t want to reveal who made the decision to dismiss the employee in this example.
. The third situation is when it’s not important who does the action. For example: “The Golden Gate Bridge was constructed in 1933.” In this case, the important information in the sentence is the date, not who built the bridge.
. The fourth situation is when it’s obvious who does the action. We’ll look at a couple examples:
-He was fired for incompetence.
-They were arrested for breaking into the supermarket at midnight.
In both example sentences, it’s obvious who does the action: the company in the first example, and the police in the second.
To practice what you’ve learned, try the accompanying passive voice exercise!
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