Active vs Passive Voice

In the active voice, the focus is on the subject and the action that the subject is doing. In the sentence below, the fact that it is Mary who is robbing the bank is emphasized.

Mary robbed a bank.

If we switch to passive, the object of the active sentence becomes subject in the passive voice. This means the focus of the sentence turns to the bank, rather than the person who robbed it.

The bank was robbed by Mary.

If you can, use the active voice.

Why? People like action and knowing who did things, so it should be no surprise that people generally prefer to read things in the active voice.

Compare these two stories:

1 Mary robbed a bank. She put the two million dollars in her bag and  fled the country.

2 The bank was robbed by Mary. The two million dollars were put her bag and the country was fled.

The first one makes for a more exciting story, right?

When should you use the Passive Voice?

If you don’t know who did the action, use the passive.

The police got a call. The bank was robbed!
(The police don’t know who robbed the bank yet.)

If the one who did the action is not important or not the focus of the sentence.

The police were called to the scene of the bank robbery.
(Someone called them there, but it doesn’t matter who. It matters that the police were going to the scene of the crime.)

Politicians love to use the passive when they don’t want to talk about who is responsible for something.

A new law was proposed that would give certain politicians a pay raise.
(It doesn’t say which politician proposed the law.)

How do you make the passive form?

If the active sentence is :

Mary robbed a bank.
S             V            O

Take the object (“a bank”) and make it the subject. The verb is formed by be + past participle. The subject of the active sentence follows by.

The bank          was robbed                 by Mary.
S               be + past participle

To change verb tenses, make the change to the be verb.

Present Continuous – The bank is being robbed by Mary.
Past Continuous – The bank was being robbed by Mary.
Future perfect – The bank  will have been robbed by Mary.



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