How to use the Passive in English

Posted on 1st February 2022

How to use the Passive Tense (Voice) in English.

English sentences are divided into two different types – Active sentences and Passive sentences. 

In an active sentence we know who does the action but in a passive sentence we don’t know and it really isn’t very important!

You could say that we use the passive to change the focus of the sentence.  For example:

The report was finished on Thursday. (passive – focus is on the report)

Maria finished the report on Thursday.  (active – focus is on Maria)

We often use the passive:

  • when we prefer not to mention who or what does the action;
  • so that we can emphasise the most important piece of information;
  • in more formal texts such as emails, articles or in business reports.

 The passive is created when we make the object (of the active sentence) – the subject of the sentence.  We use the verb TO BE + past participle.  For example:

  • DHL delivered the goods at 3pm. (active – ‘goods’ is the object)
  • The goods were delivered at 3pm.  (‘goods’ is now the ‘subject’).

If you want to add clarification as to who did the action – use the word BY

  • The goods were delivered at 3pm by DHL.  

Hope this helps you with your written and spoken English.