Passives

We use the Passive Voice when:

– WHO OR WHAT CAUSES THE ACTION IS UNKNOWN OR UNIMPORTANT

Many crimes are committed in the United States every day.

The new system wasn’t implemented well.

Have interest rates been modified recently?

*NOTE: If we would like to say who or what causes the action we can use by.

The painting was bought by an American Millionaire.


– DESCRIBING A PROCESS

The Lettuce is then washed thoroughly.

The surface wasn’t sanded before the last coat of paint.

Was the Material painted before installation?


-WE WANT TO AVOID SAYING WHO IS RESPONSIBLE

Compare the following:

Active: Tom hasn’t cleaned the kitchen yet.

Passive: The kitchen hasn’t been cleaned yet.


– DISTANCING OURSELVES FROM INFORMATION

He is thought to have left the country.

It appears to be filmed somewhere in Asia.

*NOTE: When distancing ourselves from what we are saying, we usually use expressions like:

it appears/seems that

it seems as if/though


General Structure

be

+

past participle


*NOTE: The passive voice is very often used in formal texts. Compare the following:

Active: The new development will dramatically alter the area’s atmosphere.

Passive: The area’s atmosphere will be dramatically altered by the new development.


Form

We can use the passive voice in various tenses and with modal verbs. Here are some examples:

Tense

Passive Structure

Example

Present Simple

am / is / are + past participle

She is thought to be the wealthiest woman in the UK.

Present Continuous

am / is / are + being + past participle

My car is being washed at the moment.

Past Simple

was / were + past participle

The refugees were told they were safe.

Past Continuous

was / were + being + past participle

Their house was being renovated when I left.

Present Perfect Simple

have / has + been + past participle

The shelves have been restocked this morning.

Present Perfect Continuous *

have / has + been + being + past participle

My wife’s computer has been being fixed for the past six months.

Past Perfect Simple

had + been + past participle

The deposit bank had been robbed the night before.

Past Perfect Continuous *

had + been + being + past participle

The refugees had been being stavred before they were rescued.

Future Simple

will + be + past participle

The elections will be won by the best candidate.

Future Continuous *

will + be + being + past participle

My car will be being repaired this weekend.

Future Perfect Simple

will + have + been + past participle

The project will have been completed by next month.

Future Perfect Continuous *

will + have + been + being + past participle

The war will have been being waged against terrorism by the United States for 14 years next Friday.

Going to

am / is / are + going to be + past participle

The Mona Lisa is going to be displayed at the exhibition on Friday.

Modals

could / may / might / would + be + past participle

The problem could be solved tomorrow.


*NOTE: We tend to try to avoid using passives with structures such as: be being, been being, being been, etc. because they sound awkward and unnatural. It is often also difficult to justify the usage of such structures, although they are in fact grammatically correct.