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The passive voice in English is composed of two elements : the appropriate form of the verb ‘to be’ + the past participle of the verb in question:

Subject verb ‘to be’ past participle


Example: to clean


NOTE: ‘to be born’ is a passive form and is most commonly used in the past

 I was born in 1976. When were you born?
 BUT: Around 100 babies are born in this hospital every week.

Infinitive form: infinitive of ‘to be’ + past participle: (to) be cleaned

This form is used after modal verbs and other verbs normally followed by an infinitive, e.g.Subject verb ‘to be’ past participle

You have to be tested on your English grammar
John might be promoted next year.
She wants to be invited to the party.


Gerund or -ing form: being + past participle: being cleaned
This form is used after prepositions and verbs normally followed by a gerund


a. Most film stars hate being interviewed.
b. I remember being taught to drive.
c. The children are excited about being taken to the zoo.
NOTE: Sometimes the passive is formed using the verb to get instead of the

verb to be:

a. He got arrested for dangerous driving.
b. They’re getting married later this year.
c. I’m not sure how the window got broken.



The passive voice is used to show interest in the person or object that experiences an action rather than the person or object that performs the action, e.g.

  • The passive is used …:
    We are interested in the passive, not who uses it.
  • The house was built in 1654:
    We are interested in the house, not the builder.
  • The road is being repaired:
    We are interested in the road, not the people repairing it.

In other words, the most important thing or person becomes the subject of the sentence.

Sometimes we use the passive voice because we don’t know or cannot express who or what performed the action:

  • I noticed that a window had been left open
  • Every year people are killed on our roads.

If we want to say who or what performs the action, we use the preposition


“A Hard Day’s Night” was written by the Beatles
ET was directed by Spielberg

The passive voice is often used in formal or scientific texts:

  • A great deal of meaning is conveyed by a few well-chosen words.
  • Our planet is wrapped in a mass of gases.
  • Waste materials are disposed of in a variety of ways.



Notice that the tense of the verb to be in the passive voice is the same as the tense of the main verb in the active voice.

Example: to keep


Example sentences:

Active: I keep the butter in the fridge.
Passive: The butter is kept in the fridge.

Active: They stole the painting.
Passive: The painting was stolen.

Active: They are repairing the road.
Passive: The road is being repaired.

Active: Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.
Passive: Hamlet was written by Shakespeare.

Active: A dog bit him.
Passive: He was bitten by a dog.

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