How to use the Passive

The passive voice is used to show interest in the person or object that experiences an action rather than the person or object that performs the action, e.g.

  • The passive is used …:
    We are interested in the passive, not who uses it.

  • The house was built in 1654:
    We are interested in the house, not the builder.

  • The road is being repaired:
    We are interested in the road, not the people repairing it.

In other words, the most important thing or person becomes the subject of the sentence.

Sometimes we use the passive voice because we don’t know or cannot express who or what performed the action:

  • I noticed that a window had been left open
  • Every year people are killed on our roads.

If we want to say who or what performs the action, we use the preposition by:

  • “A Hard Day’s Night” was written by the Beatles
  • ET was directed by Spielberg

The passive voice is often used in formal or scientific texts:

  • A great deal of meaning is conveyed by a few well-chosen words.
  • Our planet is wrapped in a mass of gases.
  • Waste materials are disposed of in a variety of ways.
passive voice