The Passive Voice
Are you studying the passive voice and have realized that you hate it? The passive voice is one of THE HARDEST concepts in English to understand. In my opinion, it’s because most native speakers get this habit naturally over time [normally as kids].
But don’t fear! I’ll break it down for you!
But first of all, I will tell you a story,
Once upon a time, when I was about 15 or 16 years old I was learning to drive on my parents' farm. This is pretty normal for people who live in small country towns in Australia. While I was learning I may have been driving too fast and I crashed dad’s car into a tree. Luckily, I was fine but the car was DESTROYED! When I told dad he was SOOO mad at me for destroying the car and I got into a lot of trouble. BUT, if I had used the PASSIVE VOICE instead of the ACTIVE VOICE when I told him, he probably would have been less mad!
ACTIVE VOICE vs PASSIVE VOICE
Look at these two sentences:
DAD! I destroyed the car!
DAD! The car was destroyed!
In the first sentence there is a clear subject, verb, an object… in this case, I is the subject, the car is the object and what happened? I destroyed it… In an active sentence, my dad knows EXACTLY who did what, so he can be mad at someone.
BUT, in a passive sentence the subject is the car and we know it was destroyed, however, we do not know by whom! So we focus on the VERB [destroyed] more than who did it. In other words, we are saying what happens to the subject and the thing that did it is not important.
WHEN DO I USE THE PASSIVE VOICE?
I get this question a lot, and In my case, I used it to CHANGE THE FOCUS of the sentence. If you do something bad, like, eat all of the cookies, for example, it sounds much better to say; “all of the cookies were eaten…” rather than “I ate all of the cookies…”. If you use the active voice, people know you ate all of the cookies but in the passive voice, they don't know anything! Another use is to avoid getting into trouble like I should have done when I told dad I destroyed the car...
But, the passive voice is FAR MORE common in writing. You see it everywhere, like, in newspapers, in scientific journals, in factual or formal writing and to put new information into a sentence. For example;
- New laws were passed by President Trump.
- A new element was discovered.
- The announcement will be made on Friday.
- A new disease has broken out AND people are being EATEN by zombies!
HOW DO I MAKE THE PASSIVE VOICE?
Now that you know when to use It, you should know how to make it! You see there are some patterns that make it easy to remember and it ALWAYS follows the same pattern!
The simple tenses
|past simple||The car||was [not]||destroyed!|
|[yesterday]||The people||were [not]||eaten||by zombies!|
|present simple||The car||is [not]||destroyed!|
|[now]||The people||are [not]||eaten||by zombies!|
|future simple||The car||will [not] be||destroyed!|
|[tomorrow]||The people||will [not] be||eaten||by zombies!|
So if you have studied the TO BE verb in the past this should be simple because it’s the only thing you need to change depending on the time. For example if you are PLANNING to destroy the car tomorrow and you want to tell people, you would say; “The car will be destroyed tomorrow.” and people will think you are weird.
Some tips to remember!
- The TO BE verb sometimes changes for plural subjects.
- To create the negative passive voice, just add ‘not’ in the correct place.
- The PAST PARTICIPLE is not always the same as the simple past (for example; to write; wrote; written)
- BY bla bla bla… IS NOT necessary! Because the thing doing the action isn’t important! Also the thing doing the action might not be known…
The continuous tenses
|past simple cont.||The car||was [not] being||destroyed!|
|[yesterday]||The people||were [not] being||eaten||by zombies!|
|present simple cont.||The car||is [not] being||destroyed!|
|[now]||The people||are [not] being||eaten||by zombies!|
|future simple cont.||The car||will [not] be being||destroyed!|
|[tomorrow]||The people||will [not] be being||eaten||by zombies!|
Like the simple tenses the continuous tenses are super easy as well, all you do is conjugate the TO BE verb or if you’re lazy just remember to add ‘being’ after the TO BE verb. The most common continuous tense is definitely the past and the present continuous. I don’t think I have EVER used the future continuous tense. BUT, you would use it if you are planning to do a long action in the future for example: “Attention everyone! The presentation will be being presented at 11am, you must attend.”
Some tips to remember!
- Just add ‘being’ to the conjugated ‘to be’ verb and BAM! You’re using the continuous tense!
- The continuous tense is used mostly for long actions that set the scene, describe the moment OR get interrupted by short actions (simple tense) for example; Tomorrow the car WILL BE BEING destroyed, and I WILL watch it happen!
- The future continuous tense isn’t used very often.
This wraps up part one of ‘Using the passive voice’. In part two I’ll cover the perfect tenses, some special cases and some more helpful hints! Just remember, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT so if you have any questions you can leave a comment below or book a class with me and I can help you.