Voice is the form of a verb that shows whether the subject of a sentence performs the action (the active voice) or is affected by it (the passive voice).

A sentence is said to be in active voice when we are interested in the doer of an action.

In passive voice on the other hand, we are interested in the person or thing that receives the action. Use ‘by’ in the passive voice to introduce the doer of the action.

For example;                  

I wrote a letter.                    (A.V)

A letter was written by me. (P.V)



In an active sentence, the subject of the sentence acts. It emphasizes the doer of the action.

It establishes a clear, strong relationship between the subject and the verb.

The teacher lost my book.

(The loss is clearly due to the teacher’s carelessness)

Using an active or passive verb allows a subtle but significant shift in meaning and emphasis.


In a passive sentence, the subject of the sentence is acted upon. A passive verb requires auxiliaries.

In some cases a passive sentence does not specify the person or thing completing the action, when it does; the person is named in a prepositional phrase beginning with by.

When the results of the action are more important than the doer or when the doer is unknown, passive sentences effectively express the meaning.

For example

The teacher was challenged to prove his thesis.

The teacher was challenged to prove his thesis (by students).


Some guidelines in changing active voice into passive voice.
  1. The object is turned into a subject and a subject into object.

Marwa wrote a book.

S           V        O

A book was written by Marwa

S                V                 O

  1. The form of the verb to “be” is used followed by past participle.

A shirt was stolen.

  1. Preposition ‘by’ can be added.

A letter was written by Jane.


In some sentences the object of the verb is omitted since the agent of the action is either a well known person or unidentified.

It is not mandatory therefore to mention the agent of the action. The passive form is more effective when we want to emphasize on the activity not the agent.


The robbers have been arrested. (by the police)

The student was punished. (by the teacher)

(Here the agents are well known)

My book was stolen. (by someone)

His leg was hurt. (by something)

(Here the agents are unidentified or not recognised)



A transitive verb may sometimes followed by two objects. In such cases, the sentence may have two passive forms.

Jane gave me the book.

The book was given to me by Jane.

I was given the book by Jane

The manager offered him the job.

The job was offered to him by the manager.

He was offered the job by the manager.

She cooked them a nice food.

A nice food was cooked for them by her.

They were cooked a nice food by her.


Certain verbs are always followed by prepositions. So a preposition after the verb must be retained in passive voice.

They laughed at the visitor.

The visitor was laughed at by them.

She cares for the poor.

The poor are cared for by her.

Europeans scrambled for Africa.

Africa was scrambled for by Europeans.

We are waiting for the president.

The president is being waited for by us.


The passive structure is rarely used in spoken English to express command, request, and orders. But the passive structure may be used to make indirect orders, requests and advice.

However, various ideas such as commands/ orders/ requests may be expressed in Passive voice.

The formula

You are + asked/ requested/ begged/ implored/ ordered/ commanded/ told/ advised + to + verb.

Active Passive
Please help him drinking water! You are requested to help him drinking water.
Don’t forget to tell him You are asked not to forget to tell him
Apply for the bank loan. You are advised to apply for the bank loan.
Leave her alone. You are ordered to leave her alone.
Take care of your health. You are advised to take care of your health.

Alternatively, imperative sentences can be turned into passive constructions by using “let”

The formula:

Let + Object + Be +_Past Participle.

Active Passive
Buy the book Let the book be bought
Give him the punishment Let him be given the punishment

Let the punishment be given to him

Return the book to the library Let the book be returned to the library
Clean the blackboard Let the blackboard be cleaned.



Questions are rarely made in passive construction although all questions can be changed into passive voice.

It is advised that active voice should be used when making questions.

Active Passive
Do you love your wife? Is your wife loved by you?
Have you written the letter? Has the letter been written by you?
Has she beaten the child? Has the child been beaten by her?
Did you draw the picture? Was the picture drawn by you?
Are they helping him? Is he being helped by them?



SIMPLE PRESENT He drives a car. A car is driven by him.

Am/is/are + past participle



He drove the car. The car was driven by him.

Was/were + past participle

SIMPLE FUTURE He’ll drive the car. The car will be driven by him.

Will/shall +be + past participle

PRESENT PERFECT He has driven the car. The car has been driven by him.

Have/has + been+ past participle

PAST PERFECT He had driven the car The car had been driven by him.

Had +  been + past participle

FUTURE PERFECT He’ll have driven the car The car will have been driven by him.

Will/shall +have been + past participle

PRESENT CONTINUOUS He is driving the car The car is being driven by him.

Is/am/are + being+ past participle

PAST CONTINUOUS He was driving the car The car was being driven by him.

Were/was+ being+ past participle

FUTURE CONTINUOUS He’ll be driving the car The car will be being driven by him.

Will/shall + be being+ past participle

PRESENT PERFECT CONTINUOUS He has been driving the car The car has been being driven by him.

Has/have+been+ being+ past participle

PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS He had been driving the car The car had been being driven by him.

Had+ been being+ past participle

FUTURE PERFECT CONTINUOUS He’ll have been driving the car The car will have been being driven by him.

Will/shall+ have+ been being+ past participle



  • When we don’t want to know who or what did the action. (This is done by purposely leaving out the agent).

She has been impregnated (by whom?)

The food has been eaten (by?)

  • When we don’t know the doer of the action.

The book was taken (by someone)

The picture has been stolen (by somebody)

  • When talking about scientific explanations/reports.

A Few drops of Sulphuric acid were added and heated for ten minutes.

It was concluded that, when the mixture of iron and sulphur is heated in a test tube it glows and a black solid iron (II) sulphide is formed.

  • When we don’t want to take responsibility for something.

You will be informed soon. (by?)

It will be solved next week. (By?)

  • When we want to bring the shocking information at the end of the sentence.

My daughter has been impregnated by your son.

She was raped yesterday by her own father

She was killed by her husband



Fill in the blank spaces by choosing the suitable phrase from the list below.

1)   A decision needs to ……… soon about the future of our college.

2)   I was upset when I opened the parcel of books. Some of them…….in the post.

3)   The name of the new sales director will……….next month.

4)   A: Who wrote this article about our town?

B: I don’t know, but it must……….by someone who lives here, because they know so much about it.

5)   After our party, there were plates and glasses everywhere. One plate ……..on top of the big bookcase – by somebody tall probably.

6)   The winner of the competition should…………last week, but one of the judges was ill, so it wasn’t.

7)   We stopped outside a tiny restaurant to look at the menu in the window but we couldn’t read it. It…….in pencil and in very small handwriting.

8)   Some scientists believe that the climate of the world………by the burning of oil, gas, coal and wood.

9)   While the film……., two actors quarreled with the director and left.

10)   These pills aren’t aspirins. The wrong label …….on the bottle.


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