What Is Active Voice and Passive Voice? Examples and Exercise

The Passive

Mark these sentences and their changed forms :

1a. After five years I came back home and was met by her at the station.
2a. The unique attempt was made (by Janaki) on 28 July 1992.
1b. After five years I came back home and she met me at the station.
2b. Janaki made this unique attempt on 28 July 1992.

In 1a, “I was met by her” has been changed to “she met me” in 1b.

The attempt was made (by Janaki) in 2a has been changed to “Janaki made the attempt” in 2b.

1b and 2b are said to be in active voice whereas 1a and 2a are said to be in the passive voice.

(i) The object of the active sentence is used as the subject of the passive sentence. Me (1b) and the unique attempt (2b) became subjects of 1(a) and 2(a) respectively.
(ii) The verb in the active sentence is changed into its appropriate passive form i.e. be + en – form of the main verb.
(iii) The by + the agent phrase may be left out, depending on the situation in which the passive is used.

Note that the forms of the ‘be’ verb are : is / am / are / was / were / be / being / been Also remember that when the past participle form of a verb has an adjectival meaning referring to a state, it is not in the passive form. So sentences like ‘He was worried to hear of his failure’, ‘she was married when I last saw her in a wedding.’ etc are not passive sentences.

(B) Use of the Passive in different patterns of sentences :

(i) Present Simple :

-Badminton is played here every afternoon.
-New warm clothes are given to the children every winter.

Mark the be auxiliaries in present tense followed by main verbs in –en form.

(ii) Past Simple :

-My purse was stolen yesterday.
-Sweets were distributed among the school children.

Here was/were + en – form of the verb has been used in the passive.

(iii) Present Progressive :

-Football is being played in this playground.
-The sum is being worked out on the blackboard.

Note that the active forms of these sentences are respectively (i) The Children / People are playing football in this play ground. (ii) The teacher is working out the sum on the black board. Here are playing and is working out have been changed into is being played and is being worked out in the passive because of their singular subjects. In other words, be auxiliary + ing – form of the verb in the active becomes be auxiliary + being + past participle form of the main verb. Mark that the tense of the be auxiliary in both active and passive sentences is the same.

(iv) Past Progressive :

-The walls of my room were being painted green.
-A chair was being made for me.

Here were painting has been changed into were being painted and was making verb into was being made.

(v) Present Perfect :

-The room has been decorated.
-Flowers have been collected for the puja.

Here has/have decorated has been changed into has/have been decorated.

(vi) Past Perfect :

-The room looked beautiful. It had been nicely decorated.
-Roofs of houses had been blown off in the storm.

Here had decorated/had blown off has been changed into ‘had been decorated/had been blown off ’.

Present and past perfect progressive verbs cannot be passivized. Why ?

(vii) Passive with Modals :

-The letter will be typed soon.
-The work should be completed by 5 p.m. to-day.

Notice that ‘will type’ and ‘should complete’ have been changed into ‘will be typed and should be completed’ respectively.

The other modals such as shall / would / must / may / might / can / could / ought to / needn’t / used to etc used in the active can be used in the passive with modals + be + past participle form of the main verbs.

(viii) Passives with get / have :

-He got his hair cut.
-They had their house painted yellow.

Remember we use such sentences in very limited situations only in informal English.

(ix) The Passive used with a Complement :

Active: The students have selected Sushama Rout monitor of the class.
Passive: Sushama Rout has been selected monitor of the class.

Notice that the object complement in the active becomes subject complement in the passive.

(x) Passive form of verbs having two objects :

  1. Father gave the son fifty rupees.
    ->The son was given fifty rupees.
  2. Father gave fifty rupees to the son.
    ->Fifty rupees was given to the son.
    You must have observed that the nearest object becomes the subject in the passive sentence. Ditransitive verbs like give, ask, bring, take, tell, etc. can be passivized in this way.

(xi) Passives with the verbs of reporting :

Active: People say that elephants have good memories.
Passive: It is said that elephants have good memories.
OR Elephants are said to have good memories.

Active: People say that he was an honest officer.
Passive::It is said that he was an honest officer.
Or He is said to have been an honest officer.

This is because in the first example both the main clause and the ‘that – clause’ are in the same tense form (present simple) while in the second example the main clause has the present simple tense but the ‘that’ clause is in the past simple tense.

(xii) Passives with that – clause / wh – clause as the subject :

That the earth moves round the sun is believed by everybody.

But such sentences are not commonly used by the people. They prefer to use this idea in the sentence ‘it is believed that the earth moves round the sun’ making the that – clause an opposition to the pronoun ‘it’.

(xiii) The Passive with to – infinitive / ing – form of the verb :

Active: The teacher made him stand up.
Passive: He was made to stand up.
Active: He was made to stand up.
Passive: He was seen climbing the ladder.

We see that bare infitives in the active become to – infinitive in the passive. The main verbs used in this way are let, hear, see, have, watch, make etc.

(xiv) We use either an active infinitive or a passive infinitive when the subject of the sentence is ‘there’.

-There are a lot of windows to paint / to be painted.
-There is some homework to do to be done.

(xv) Sentences in the active form with passive meanings :

-These clothes need washing.
=These clothes need to be washed.
-The room requires tidying.
=The room requires to be tidied.

We have discussed declarative sentences in their active forms are changed in their equivalent passive forms. Let’s now see how interrogative sentences in their active forms are changed into the passive.

Consider the following sentences :

Active: Did the hunter kill the bird yesterday ?
First, we have to change it into a declarative sentence.
Step – I: The hunter did kill the bird yesterday.
Step – II: The hunter killed the bird yesterday. ( did kill = killed )
Step – III: The bird . . . . . . (usings the object of the active sentence as the subject of the passive)
Step – IV: The bird was killed . . . . . . . (changing the active verb ‘killed’ into its passive form ‘was killed’)
Step – V: The bird was killed yesterday.
(Now we have to decide whether we would use the ‘by + the agent’ phrase i.e. ‘ by + the hunter’ here or not. Since it is not necessary to use the ‘by + the agent’ phrase in such a situation, we needn’t use it.
Step – VI: Was the bird killed yesterday ?
(changing into the question form)
Let’s consider how some other types of interrogative sentences are changed into their corresponding passive forms.

Example – 1 : Who wrote this book ?

Step – I: Somebody wrote this book
(changing the sentence into a declarative one in the active form)
Step – II : This book . . . . . . .
(using the object of the active sentence as the subject of the passive)
Step – III: This book was written . . . . . . .
(changing the active verb ‘wrote’ into the passive form)
Step – IV: This book was written by somebody
(using the by + the agent phrase in the end position)
Step – V: This book was written by whom / who.
(Replacing somebody by whom / who)
Step – VI: By whom was this book written?
or Who was the book written by?
(changing the sentence into the interrogative form)

Example – 2

Active: How did you work out that sum ?
Passive: How was that sum worked out?

Example – 3

Active: Why did he beat his servant?
Passive: Why was his servant beaten?

Example – 4

Active: When did he return the book to the library?
Passive: When was the book returned to the library?

Example – 5

Active: Where did he find it?
Passive:: Where was it found?

Restrictions on the use of the passive :

We use the passive when we are more interested in the action that is performed than in the agent that performs the action. But there are certain restrictions in its use.

The restrictions are :

(a) Not all active verbs can have passive forms.

Example :

(i) Active: I have a car (grammatical). But ‘A car is had by me’ (which is wrongly thought to be its passive form) is ungrammatical and unacceptable. So ‘have’ (as a main verb meaning to possess), to eat, to take, to experience, to suffer etc cannot be passivized.

(b) Similarly passive sentences like :

  • I am resembled by my father.
  • Courage is lacked by him.
  • I am well fitted by these shoes.
  • The country was fled by him.
    are not acceptable.
    So the active verbs like resemble, lack, fit, suit, flee, hold, let, owe, like, possess etc. cannot be passivized.

(c) Though the following underlined verbs occur with objects, they have no corresponding passive forms :

-Rama Chandra married site.
-Two and three make five.
-Children like chocolates.
-I can read Bengali.
-Babies drink milk.
-The monkey climbed the tree.
-we eat rice.
-Mother loves her children.
The passive forms of these sentences will be absurd and unnatural. So they are not acceptable.

(C) Reflexives as the subjects of passive constructions are unacceptable although their use as objects in active sentences is grammatically correct.

Example :

  • ‘Himself was hurt’
  • ‘Itself was opened’
  • ‘Herself was seen in the mirror’
    are all ungrammatical and unacceptable sentences.

(D) Reciprocal pronouns like each other and one another cannot be used as the subject of a passive construction.

  • Each other was helped by Prakash and Robin.
  • One another was loved by the children.
    are ungrammatical and unacceptable sentences.
    But their use in active sentences like
    ‘Prakash and Robin helped each other’ and ‘The children loved one another’ are grammatically correct.

(E) Intransitive and link verbs have no passive forms.

So sentences like the following have no passive forms.

-This baby sleeps ten hours a day.
-The pen costs ten rupees.
-The plane took off at 2 p.m.
-The meeting lasted two hours.
-The stick measures one metre.
-He weighs sixty kilograms.
(The phrasal verb ‘took off’ is intransitive.)
(The phrasal verb ‘took off’ is intransitive.)

(F) Imperative verbs cannot normally be passivised.

However, imperative sentences with the verb ‘let’ can have passive forms. So ‘Let the door be shut’ cannot be accepted as the passive equivalent of ‘Shut the door’. The sentence ‘Let the door be shut.’ loses the force of the command contained in the sentence ‘Shut the door’. Moreover, in ‘Shut the
However, imperative sentences with the verb ‘let’ can have passive forms. So ‘Let the door be shut’ cannot be accepted as the passive equivalent of ‘Shut the door’. The sentence ‘Let the door be shut.’ loses the force of the command contained in the sentence ‘Shut the door’. Moreover, in ‘Shut the

(G) There are some verbs which are used only in the passive. Mark their use in the following sentences

Example :

-Gandhiji was born in 1869.
-He was drowned in the river.

(H) Intransitive phrasal verbs cannot be passivised, but transitive phrasal verbs can have passive forms.

Example :

-All the lights in the town went out.
-The car broke down on the way.
Here went out and broke down are intransitive phrasal verbs But transitive phrasal verbs like, cut down, called off, run over etc. can be used in passive sentences.

Example :

‘The tree was cut down. ‘The strike was called off and
‘The tree was cut down’. ‘The strike was called off’ and

(1) Active infinitives with passive meanings :

Example :

-You are not to blame. (Active)
=You are not to be blamed. (Passive)
-There is a house to let. (Active)
=There is a house to be let. (Passive)
There are some such active infinitives which have passive meanings.

Use of the by + the agent phrase in the passive :

We have seen that the use of the by + the agent phrase in most passive sentences is not necessary. But there are a few situations where the by + the agent phrase is used in passive sentences because the speaker here, while talking about the action, wants to provide additional information about the doer (agent) of the action.

(a) We use the by – phrase in the passive when the agent is an important person – a renowned scientist, a poet or a writer, a painter or an artist, an inventor or a discoverer.

Example :

-The Ramayan was written by Valmiki.
-Radio was invented by Marconi.
-The Monalisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

(b) We use the by – phrase in the passive when the agent is an indefinite person or thing and the speaker thinks it will provide the readers with new information.

Example :

-While the wood-cutter was passing through the forest, he was suddenly killed by a tiger.
-Although the problem was very difficult, it was solved by a child.
Here ‘a tiger’ and ‘a child’ are indefinite and they provide the readers with new information.

(c) ) We use the ‘by-phrase’ in passive sentences when the agent is an inanimate or non-living thing or object and is regarded as something unusual or unexpected.

Example :

-The traffic in our city is manned by electrical devices.
-This hotel is run by a robot.
In these situations we would not expect non-living agents to act like living beings, so the agent in each sentence is thought to be unusual or unexpected.
We have also seen that most passive sentences are without the by-phrase. Therefore we use passives in situations where it is not necessary to mention the agent.

(d) Let’s now identify some such situations where the passive is used without the by + phrase.

Example :

-Stars were created millions of years ago.
-My purse has been stolen.

(ii) We use the passive without the by – phrase when we are not interested in the agent :

Example :

-My dog has been killed.
–This car is made in India.

(iii) The by – phrase is not used in the passive when the speaker thinks that the agent is obvious or commonly known :

Example :

-The thief was arrested.
–The patient was admitted into a hospital.
-Grapes are grown in Hyderabad.

(iv) The passive is used without the by – phrase when the speaker knows who / what the agent is, but does not want to mention him / it for some reason.

Example :

-All the biscuits have been eaten up.
-Mistakes were made in the totalling of marks.

(v) We use the passive without the by – phrase :

Example :

-It is hoped (that) he will flourish in his business.
-It is believed that the sun is a ball of fire.

(vi) ) We use passive sentences in official, legal, scientific and newspaper writings and in public notices :

Example :

-The peon was punished for his late attendance in the office. (official)
-The criminal was at last granted bail. (legal)
-Dust particles are found in the air. (scientific)
-Smoking is prohibited here. (public notice)
-One thousand people are reported to have been killed in the tsunami in Japan (newspaper).
It is now clear that the passive is usually used in scientific, legal and official situations. We should not blindly change every active verb into a passive one. The passive is used when a context demands it. It is therefore, necessary to study the context first to determine whether or not a passive is needed.

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