Transitive verbs (verbs that take an object) can appear in both active and passive voice. The voice used doesn’t affect the meaning of the sentence but it changes the focus. For a better understanding let’s take a look at the following example:
Example: Nicolae Paulescu discovered the insulin.
- (the focus is on Nicolae Paulescu). The subject is Nicolae Paulescu.
The insulin was discovered by Nicolae Paulescu.
- (the focus is on the insulin). The subject is the insulin.
Note: Both sentences have the same meaning but
each sentence has different focus.
- The passive voice of verbs in simple tenses is formed in this way: will be, am, is, are, was, were + past participle (+by + agent) (agent = the one who does the action; in the example above the agent is Nicolae Paulescu).
|Past||Brazil won the world cup last year.
|Last year, the world cup was won by Brazil.
Focus: the world cup
|Present||Inventors make new discoveries every day.
|New discoveries are made by inventors every day.
Focus: New discoveries
|Future||Technology will control our lives.
|Our lives will be controlled by technology.
Focus: Our lives
By + noun/pronoun can be used in passive sentences to tell who or what did the action expressed by the verb. As I know by + noun/pronoun is not commonly used in English. However, this form is used in the following situations:
- gives information that is necessary to the meaning of the sentence. (Ex: Houses will be run by computers.)
- gives a particular name or idea that is important in the context (see my first example)
- gives new or unusual information.
Common expressions in passive voice
- be accustomed to
- be based on
- be connected to
- be covered with
- be derived from
- be equipped with
- be filled with (by)
- be formed of (from, by)
- be known for (as, to+verb)
- be involved in (with)
- be linked to
- be located in (at, on)
- be made of (from)
- be made up of
- be noted for
- be related to
- be shown in (at, on)
- be suited for
- be used for (as, with)
- be used to + verb
Get + Adjective or Past Participle is commonly used in conversation. I haven’t seen it very often in writing form but for sure is frequently used in spoken English.
|Get + adjective||I got angry about this situation.|
|Get + past participle||I got worried about this situation.|
Using anticipatory “it” in passive voice – “It” is often used with the passive form of some verbs such as believe, confirm, deny, estimate, fear, hope, mention, report, say, think etc. Past expressions such as “It was believed …” indicate that the ideas mentioned in the sentence have changed.
|Active||People said, “The Earth is flat.”.|
|Passive||It was said, “The Earth is flat.”.
It was said that the Earth was flat.
- The passive voice of verbs in perfect tenses is formed in this way: have (will have, have, has, had) + been + past participle (+by +agent). Usually adverbs of frequency are used after the first auxiliary verb. Confusing?! Maybe the examples below will make it clearer.
|Future Perfect||Within the next few years, companies will have developed several new drugs.
|Within the next few years, several new drugs will have been developed.
Focus: Several new drugs
|Present Perfect||Drug companies have developed many new drugs since 1950.
Focus: Drug companies
|Many new drugs have been developed since 1950.
Focus: Many new drugs
|Past Perfect||Until 1950, scientists had developed few drugs.
|Until 1950, few antibiotics had been developed.
Focus: Few antibiotics
Note: As I know, the perfect continuous tenses are not used in passive voice.
- The passive voice of verbs in the present and past continuous tenses is formed in this way: be (am, is, was, were) +being +past participle (+by +agent). Usually, adverbs of frequency are used after the first auxiliary verb.
|Present Continuous||Today farmers are using sophisticated machines to cultivate their farms.
|Today, sophisticated machines are being used to cultivate farms.
Focus: Sophisticated machines
|Past Continuous||A hundred years ago, farmers were using primitive tools to cultivate their farms.
|A hundred years ago, primitive tools were being used to cultivate farms.
Focus: Primitive tools
Note: The future continuous tense and the present and past continuous tense are not used in the passive voice
- The simple passive voice of modal auxiliaries is formed in this way: modal (can, could, may, might, must, ought to, shall, should, will, would) +be +past participle (+by +agent). The perfect passive form follows this pattern: modal +have been + past participle.
|Simple Modal||We could conserve more oil today.
|More oil could be conserved today.
Focus: More oil
|Perfect Modal||We could have conserved more oil in the past.
|More oil could have been conserved in the past.
Focus: More oil
Note: The perfect form of “must” gives the meaning of probability
- The work must be finished. (Probability or need; it depends on the context)
- The work must have been finished. (Probability only)
Verbs in passive voice are always tested on English proficiency exams, at least here in Vietnam. Remember three general rules:
- The passive is formed in this way: modal auxiliary + be + past participle
- The verb be is singular or plural depending on the subject of the passive sentence
- The verb “be” gives the appropriate tense and time for the sentence