The Passive Voice
Complete Guide

In this Guide you will learn:

  • The definition of the passive voice.
  • When to use the passive voice
  • How to form the passive voice
  • Examples with different verb tenses.
  • Some extras (including how to use get)
  • Passive voice exercises
The passive voice

What is the passive voice?

Definition: The passive voice is used when the receiver of the action is the subject of the sentence.


Example: This house was built by my father.


In this example “The house” received the action but it is the subject of this sentence. This is not a common way to express a sentence in English and the passive voice can often sound formal. Keep reading to discover why we use the passive voice. The most common way to explain this sentence is the active voice.

What is the active voice?

Definition: The active voice is when the actor (the person who does the action) is the subject of the sentence.

Example: My father built the car.

So, you can see that in this sentence that “my father” was the actor of the sentence and he is also the subject. (Subject/Verb/Object)

This is the best way to create this sentence because it is clear and easy for the listener to understand. However, there are certain situations when we need to use the passive voice and I will explain when below.

When to Use the Passive Voice

We use the passive voice for 4 situations


1. When the subject is unknown

If we don’t know the subject then we often want to place more emphasis on the action or the person who received the action.


My bag was stolen!

My house was broken into last night.

In these examples, we don’t know who the criminals were. 

 2. When the receiver of the action is more important.

In this case, the speaker decides to place more importance on the action or the receiver of the action.


The train was delayed

(It doesn’t matter who caused the delay. The important point is that the train is late and now we have to wait!)

The roads were destroyed by the typhoon.(Again the result is more important because we don’t have roads!)

3. When the subject is obvious.

In this case, we don’t need the subject because there is only one possible person or group of people responsible for the action.


He was arrested at 6 am.

(Only the police can arrest people)

The rubbish was collected this morning.

(It is obvious who collects the rubbish and it is more important that the rubbish was collected)

4 When the doer of the action is people in general.


It is accepted that you do not smoke indoors .

(The people who accept this situation, in this case, is “everyone”)

It was once thought that losing blood could cure diseases..


Passive Voice Structure


How to form the passive voice


To form the passive voice we use the verb to be + past participle.


You need to use the correct verb tense of the verb to be. So if the sentence is in the future then you need to use will be + past participle.

More examples of the active and passive voice

Active: I like Tony

Passive: Tony is liked by me 

Active : People play football all around the world.

Passive : Football is played all around the world.

Active : The cleaners cleaned the room.

Passive : The room was cleaned.

Active : John failed the exam.

Passive : The exam was failed by John.

You can see from these examples that sometimes it is a good idea to use the passive voice if you follow the reasons why we use the passive voice. If you don’t follow the uses, you make the sentence more complicated than necessary. In fact, sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense in the passive voice.

Active :John attempted to jump over the wall.

Passive : The wall was attempted to be jumped over by John.

Can you see how confusing the second sentence is?


Passive Voice Examples for all Tenses



Ok, so remember we need to conjugate the verb to be in the correct verb tense and then add the past participle of the verb we need to use. For example, the present perfect simple of the verb to be (have/has been) + the past participle( seen, done, etc)

Tense Verb to be + past participle Example
Present Simple
am/is/are + made
Chocolate is made in Switzerland.
Coffee beans are dried and then roasted.
Present Continuous
am/is/are + being + arrested
I am being arrested even though I am innocent.
She is being charged for perjury.
Past Simple
was/were + taken
The apples were taken last night.
The kangaroo was found safe and sound..
Past Continuous
was/were + being + bullied
I was being bullied by my boss at my last job.
The cart was being pulled by the horse.
Future (will)
Will be + signed
The contract will be signed next week.
That will be handled by the finance department.
Future (going to)
am/is/are + going to be + sold
The houses are going to be sold by the auctioneer.
I am going to be made a knight
Present Perfect
Has/Have + been + done
The photocopies have been done.
All of the tickets have been sold.
Present Perfect Continuous
** Not common When you need to, use the Present perfect simple form.
Past Perfect
Had been + told
He had been told about the meeting 3 times!
Everything had been sold before the fire.
Future Perfect
Will have been + finished
The wall will have been finished for over a year by 2022.
The project will have been started and we will need to understand the next steps.
Can/could + be + arranged
Your visa can be arranged online.
Your ticket can be purchased online.
Have to
Have to
Has to + be + done
Had to
Your homework has to be done by Friday.
She has to be taken into police custody.
Must + be + stopped
She must be stopped!
He must be committed to his organization.


Learn more about the Passive Voice


Asking questions in the passive voice


Asking questions in the passive voice is the same as other parts of English. You need to invert the subject and the auxiliary

Positive :  You were collected by the bus driver.

Question : Were you collected by the bus driver?

Simple as that!

Another example with the present perfect simple:

Positive : The pens have been bought.

Question : Have the pens been bought? 

For more on questions, check out my article on WH-questions here

Common examples in news reports


It is common to hear the passive voice in news reports. That is because the action is the most important thing and often with live news, we don’t have all the facts.


The Airstrike in Syria is expected to end soon.

A bomb has been detonated in Central Bagdad.

Get and the passive voice


In informal English, it is also possible to use get instead of be.


There was a fight at the football game but nobody got hurt 

(You can also say” Nobody was hurt”)

You can only use get when things happen like in the news reports above.


He got hit on the head by a golf ball (something happened)

He was liked by everyone (In this example. No action happens so you can’t use “get”)

The passive agent, 

How to include the person/thing that does the action in the sentence


So we learned that the person that does the action is not as important as the person who receives the action. Sometimes, we still want to include this person and hen we do, we use the word by.


The bins were collected by the binman.

The children were brought to school by their mother. 

The injection was performed by the nurse.

Active Voice vs Passive Voice: More Practice


Let’s look at some more examples of how the sentences can change from the active voice to the passive voice before we try some exercises.

passive voice example


Exercises on the Active and Passive Voice



A Make sentences in the passive voice from these active voice sentences.

  1. Somebody has taken away the rubbish.
  2. Somebody took the computer.
  3. I came into the room and noticed that someone had put the book on the table.
  4. Everybody liked him.
  5. I didn’t realise that they were listening to me.

B Which sentences is it possible to use get.

  1. I had a bicycle but it was stolen last week.
  2. Be careful of my piano. It was damaged the last time you moved it!
  3. It was thought that we should spend 1 million on the marketing plan.
  4. He was beaten up by the guards.
  5. They were believed to have arrived on a boat.