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Unit 58: The Passive Voice

The Passive Voice

There are two voices in English, the active and the passive. The active tells us what the subject does, for example:
- The secretary wrote a letter.
The passive tells us what is done to the subject. For example:
- The letter was written by the secretary.

Form

The passive is made with the verb "to be" and the past participle. Here are the main English tenses used in the passive voice.

Tense

Simple present:

Present continuous:

Simple past:

Past continuous:

Present perfect:

Past perfect:

Future:

Future continuous:

Present conditional:

Past conditional:

Subject

Flowers

Flowers

Flowers

Flowers

Flowers

Flowers

Flowers

Flowers

Flowers

Flowers


Verb "to be"

are

are being

were

were being

have been

had been

will be

will be being

would be

would have been

Past Participle

planted every year

planted now.

planted last year

planted last summer.

planted here for 10 years.

planted until last year.

planted next year.

planted during the summer.

planted if we had seeds.

planted if we had had seeds.

By

To state what the cause of a passive action is, you can use by. For example:
- This photo was taken by my friend.
- I was given this by my brother.

It is often not necessary to statethe cause of a passive action, especially when clearly understood or irrelevant. For example:
- The meeting was cancelled. (The meeting's cancellation is what is important, not who cancelled it.)
- These boots were made in Italy. (The fact they were made in Italy is what's important, not who made them.)

Born

When talking abut the birth of specific people of things we use the passive form "to be born". For example:
- I was born in Iran.
- The twins were born just last year.

Get

Get can be used instead of to be in situations where something happens. For example:
- Our flight got cancelled = Our flight was cancelled.
- I got paid today = I was paid today.

Get can't be used with general situations and state verbs (verbs that express a state, not an action). For example:
- He is liked by a lot of people. - OK
- He gets liked by a lot of people. - Incorrect.
- She is known to be a hard-working employee. - OK
- She gets known to be a hard-working employee.- Incorrect
Get is used more often in informal English.

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