Passive Voice in English

Passive Voice in EnglishHow the passive voice differs from active. Passive construction types.


When sentence subjects denote activity doers, their verbs are said to be in the active voice.

My sister cooks meals in the morning.

But when subjects denote what only undergoes activity, verbs are in the passive voice.

He was brought up in an orphanage.

The passive voice is formed with the helping verb be in the appropriate tense and main verbs’ past participles:

Finite Be + Past Participle

Verbal Passive

Perfect Infinitive


Perfect Participle/Gerund

to have done

to have been done

being done

having been done

Any tense except Perfect Continuous and Future Continuous can have passive. Especially often it happens in Past Simple. Negative passives have not after helping verbs and will. Interrogative passives start with auxiliaries and will.

Will it be used? – No, it won’t.

Complex Subject

The passive is often used with speech and opinion verbs.

She’s considered to be the best singer in the band.

Direct Passive

With the verbs ask, answer, forgive, strike, excuse, envy, teach only animate of 2 direct objects become passive subjects.

He was asked a question.


With the verbs write, read, buy, sell, sing only 1 passive construction is used with direct objects becoming passive subjects.

A letter was written to them.


Direct-Indirect Passive

With the verbs tell, show, give, send, pay, promise, offer 2 passive constructions can be formed with the indirect passive as more common.

The way was shown (to) me. I was shown the way.

Direct Prepositional Passive

With the verbs describe, dictate, repeat, mention, explain, prove, declare, present only direct objects become passive subjects.

The rule was explained to the students.

Prepositional Passive

With the verbs look at, listen to, talk about, speak of, laugh at, send for, think at/over/out, argue about prepositional objects become passive subjects.

The doctor was sent for.



Group Passive

With the verbs take care of, shake hands with, catch hold of, put an end to and the like prepositions are preserved.

He’s taken good care of.




The passive is more typical of formal English (news, notices, descriptions). In it activity receivers are more important than doers or when doers are vague. The passive avoids placing responsibility for something unpleasant on someone specific. It may also avoid changing sentence subjects. To emphasize activity doers we use prepositional agent modifiers with by after passive verbs.

The play was written by a previously unknown author.

The passive is impossible for have, possess, cost, belong, resemble, suit, last and some other stative verbs.