Active voice and passive voice refer to the form of a verb. In the active, the subject of the verb is the person or thing doing the action:

1) Millions of people read Reader's Digest.

In the passive, the action is done to the subject:

2) Reader's Digest is read by millions of people.

Active and passive sentences usually have the same meaning but the focus is different: In sentence 1) above, the focus is on the people. In sentence 2) the focus is on the magazine. 

Use the passive when

a) the agent is unknown or not important (The magazine was founded in 1922.) 

b) the identity of the agent is clear from the context (The magazine is sold in newsagents.)

c) you want to avoid mentioning the agent (Some mistakes were made in that article.)


Forms of the Passive

In all clauses with a passive voice verb, use the form of ‘be’, followed by the past participle form of the main verb.



They paint the house every three years.

The house is painted every three years.

They painted the house last year.

The house was painted last year.

They will paint the house next year.

The house will be painted next year.

They are painting the house now.

The house is being painted now.

They were painting the house all last week.

The house was being painted all last week.

They have just painted the house.

The house has just been painted.

They had just painted the house when the roof collapsed.

The house had just been painted when the roof collapsed.

They will have painted the house by next Tuesday.

The house will have been painted by next Tuesday.

They need to paint the house.

The house needs to be painted.

Note that there are no passive equivalents for present perfect progressive, past perfect progressive, future progressive, and future perfect progressive tenses.


Exercise 1.

Complete the sentences with the passive form of the verbs in the list. Use any appropriate tense.

build      divide      invent      order      surprise      cause      expect      kill      report      surround      confuse      frighten      offer      spell      wear

1. The electric light bulb … by Thomas Edison in 1879.

2. An island … by water.

3. The -ing form of sit … with a double "t."

4. Even though construction costs are high, a new dormitory … next year.

5. The class was too large last semester, so it … into two sections.

6. A bracelet … around the wrist.

7. The Johnsons' house burned down. According to the inspector, the fire … by lightning.

8. Al got a ticket for reckless driving. When he went to traffic court, he … to pay a large fine.

9. I read about a hunter who … accidentally … by another hunter.

10. The hunter's fatal accident … not ... in the newspaper yet.

11. I didn't expect Lisa to come to the meeting last night, but she was there. I … to see her.

12. Last week I … a job at a local bank, but I didn't accept it.

13. The children … in the middle of the night when they heard strange noises in the house.

14. Could you explain this math problem to me? Yesterday in class I … by the teacher's explanation.


A: Is the plane going to be late?

B: No. It … to be on time.


Exercise 2.
Complete the sentences with the active or passive form of the verbs in the list. Use any appropriate tense.


Exercise 3.

Rewrite the following paragraph, adapted from a New York Times article, changing verbs from the active to the passive voice wherever you think it is appropriate. More than one answer may be possible.


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