Active Voice and Passive Voice in English Grammar

When we are speaking, there are two ways which we can do this, these are the active voice and passive voice.

Active Voice

The structure for the active voice is:

Subject + Verb + Object

This is when we focus on the person or thing or object DOING the action.

  • The dog bit the man – The dog is doing the biting
  • The woman drives the car – The woman is doing the driving
  • Ken is teaching the students – Ken is doing the teaching

Passive Voice

The structure for the passive voice is:

Object + verb “to be” + v3 + by the subject

There is where we focus on the person, thing or object that has the action done TO them. They DID NOT DO the action

  • The man was bitten by the dog – The man had the action done by the dog
  • The car is driven by the woman – The car had the action done by the woman
  • The students are being taught by Ken – The students had the action done by Ken

(Notice that in correct grammar – the object is now called the passive subject and the subject is called the agent)  

When we use the passive voice, we have to know the tense of the verb “to be

  • Present Simple-  is/am/are
  • Past Simple - was/were
  • Present Continuous - is/am/are being
  • Past Continuous - was/were being
  • Present Perfect -  have/has been
  • Past Perfect - had been
  • Future Simple - will be
  • Future Intention - is/am/are going to be
  • Modal Verb - Modal Verb + be

We use the Passive Voice a lot to maybe be polite and to give instructions.

Have a look at this passive voice sentence:

  • Seatbelts must be fastened during take off and landing.

There is no agent (subject) to do the action, but we already know that it is people or passengers, so we can say in the Active Voice

  • Passengers must fasten seatbelts during take off and landing

Another example:

  • They built the skyscraper in 1972

They – the subject is probably not important we wouldn’t use it in the Passive Voice

  • The skyscraper was built in 1972