Passive Voice English Grammar – 20 REAL examples (Video too!)

Many of my private and company English students have trouble using the passive voice, so I was inspired to write this blog post.

What is the Passive voice in English grammar?

If the subject of our sentence gets or receives something (something happens to the subject) we use the passive voice.

“Paul was bitten by a mosquito.”

Passive voice rules

Passive voice uses the verb to be (am, is, are, was, were) plus the past participle form of the verb in the main action

“Paul was bitten by a mosquito.”

(bitten is the past participle of the verb TO BITE)

Active and passive voice – Difference

In an active voice sentence, the subject does something.

A mosquito bit Paul. (ACTIVE voice) Subject--Verb--Object 

In a passive voice sentence, something happens to the subject.

Paul was bitten by a mosquito. (PASSIVE voice) Subject--Verb--Object

Is the Passive Voice wrong?

No. Using the active voice does make your writing more direct, the subject of your sentence is being or doing something but the passive voice is important too. There are some times when using the passive voice is actually more suitable for your sentence than the active voice.  From Grammarly.com

“But the passive voice is not incorrect. In fact, there are times when it can come in handy.”

grammarly
Passive Voice infographic

When to use the Passive Voice

The first example from this post of the passive voice is not something I would say in natural conversation. It would be much more natural to use the active voice and say “A mosquito bit Paul.”

BUT… There are times when it feels natural to use the passive voice in conversation. Especially when the person who performs the action is unknown or not important to the story.

To look at the following examples: 

“The hotel rooms are cleaned every morning before 11:00.”

In this example, you know that hotel rooms are cleaned but not who cleans them. The focus of the sentence is that the rooms are cleaned every morning. 

“The lost and found office at the station is full of umbrellas that were forgotten on the train.” 

Who forgot the umbrellas is very easy to understand, but it is not important to our story. The focus of our sentence is the number of umbrellas in the lost and found office. A lot! The people who forgot them are not important to our story.


Another way that we use the passive voice is to show how something affected us.

“I was shocked by the end of the movie.”

This is much more natural than the active version:

“The end of the movie shocked me.”

More examples:

“We were impressed with her presentation.”

“She was surprised by how tall he was.”

The preposition BY with the PASSIVE VOICE

We use the preposition BY if we want to say what caused the action.

  • I was shocked BY the end of the movie.
  • She was surprised BY how tall he was.
  • Paul was bitten BY a mosquito.
  • The cake had been eaten BY my family!

Sometimes we just want to add more information to our story.

  • The umbrellas were forgotten BY busy commuters.
  • The hotel rooms are cleaned every morning BY the hardworking staff.

*Remember: Paul was bitten BY a mosquito.

The preposition BY

Passive voice sentence examples

Next week is my mother’s birthday and I will order flowers for her online.

Let’s use this situation with the passive voice using different verb tenses.
Something is happening to the flowers, the subject of our sentences. (except for future continuous!)

Different verb tense examples with the Passive Voice
Simple present
Flowers are delivered every day.
Present continuous
Flowers are being delivered right now.
Simple past
Flowers were delivered 2 days ago.
Past continuous
The flowers were being delivered when I phoned the florist.
Present perfect
Flowers have been delivered in Canada since 1877.
Past perfect
The flowers had been delivered before my mom got home.
Future
The flowers will be delivered next Tuesday.
Future continuous
That flower truck has been behind us for 15 minutes. I think we are being followed!
Present conditional
The flowers will be delivered if there are no problems with your credit card.
Past conditional
The flowers would have been delivered if we had enough roses.

Bonus #1 Past Participle examples

The past participle is a verb form used for making the perfect tense (had given – have given – will have given) and for the passive voice (She was given a new computer). 
Learn more about the perfect tense here – How to use the Present Perfect Tense (English Grammar)

Remember that we use the correct tense of the verb to be with the past participle form of the verb from the main action to make a passive voice sentence.

To bite
Present tense ~ bite
Present tense third person singular ~ bites
Past tense ~ bit
Past participle ~ bitten

Paul was bitten by a mosquito. (Bitten is the past participle of the verb To bite.)

Learn more about the past participle here – Past and Past Participle of READ (PDF + Video) Easy Grammar

A common example of the past participle that maybe you have heard before is eaten. This is the past participle of the verb to eat

To eat
Present tense ~ eat
Present tense third person singular ~ eats
Past tense ~ ate
Past participle ~ eaten

“When I got to the party I was too late to have cake. My family had eaten everything! They didn’t save me a piece.”

HAD EATEN is the past perfect tense.

The cake had been eaten!

This is the perfect tense passive voice. (BEEN is the past participle of the verb TO BE.)

The cake had been eaten! Passive voice grammar.
To forget
Present tense ~ forget
Present tense third person singular ~ forgets
Past tense ~ forgot
Past participle ~ forgotten

“Alex had forgotten to pack his toothbrush, so he had to buy one from the drug store beside his hotel.”

Past perfect

“The lost and found office at the station is full of umbrellas that were forgotten on the train.” 

Passive voice
 were forgotten on the train
Passive voice grammar.

For all regular verbs (verbs whose past tense is ~ed) the past participle and the past tense are the same. 

To clean
Present tense ~ clean
Present tense third person singular ~ cleans
Past tense ~ cleaned
Past participle ~ cleaned

“My brother said he cleaned his room this morning, but he didn’t He just watched TV.”

Past tense

“The hotel rooms are cleaned every morning before 11:00.” 

Past participle (Passive voice)

Some irregular verbs also use the same form for the past and past participle.

To buy
Present tense ~ buy
Present tense third person singular ~ buys
Past tense ~ bought
Past participle ~ bought

Have you ever bought something and then felt like it was a mistake the next day?”

Past participle with the present perfect

“The painting was bought by a private collector in 1911 and it was given to the museum by his family in 1976.”

Passive voice

Passive voice in English – More examples

Harry was struck by lightning!

To strike
Present tense ~ strike
Present tense third person singular ~ strikes
Past tense ~ struck
Past participle ~ struck
Harry was struck by lightning! Passive voice grammar.
“Harry was struck by lightning!”
To promote
Present tense ~ promote
Present tense third person singular ~ promote
Past tense ~ promoted
Past participle ~ promoted

Brian was promoted after just 6 months. 

Compare Passive Voice and Active Voice

The company promoted Brian after just 6 months. 

*The company is the subject in this sentence so we use the active voice. The company did something, it promoted Brian. In this sentence promoted is the past tense of promote, not the past participle. (The past tense and the past participle are the same!)

Brian was promoted. 
Passive voice grammar.

We can also use the verb GET in the passive voice. (This is used in conversation.)

We will use the correct form of the verb to get instead of to be.

I can’t believe Brian got promoted after only 6 months!

There was a big car accident on the street in front of my office. Luckily no one got hurt.

Hurt is one of a few verbs that don’t change between present, past and the past participle.

To hurt
Present tense ~ hurt
Present tense third person singular ~ hurts
Past tense ~ hurt
Past participle ~ hurt

Bonus #2 Perfect Tense + The Passive Voice

I mentioned above that the past participle is used with the passive voice and with perfect tense grammar. The perfect tense can be used with the passive voice.

We will use HAVE plus BEEN (the past participle of the verb TO BE) for the perfect passive voice. 

Take a look at the following examples. 

“The cake had been eaten.”

“When I got home I saw that the fridge door had been left open!”

To leave
Present tense ~ leave
Present tense third person singular ~ leaves
Past tense ~ left
Past participle ~ left
Has this ever happened to you?
The fridge door had been left open.
Passive voice grammar.

Learning a verbs’ past participle form is important for using the passive voice. This is a link for “50 Most Common Irregular Verbs” from ESL-Lounge.com

Watch the video below to review the grammar and improve your English listening skills! ⇩

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