English Learning Box


Passive Voice

Grammar Rules

In the active voice, the subject of the verb is the person or thing that does the action.

For example, in the sentence,

  • The wind broke the tree,

the subject of the sentence, the wind, is what caused the action. This sentence is in the active voice. Compare with this sentence:

  • The tree was broken by the wind.

The new subject of the sentence, the tree, is what was affected by the action.

In the example above, we moved the real subject, the wind, after the verb with the preposition by. The by phrase helps to identify the real doer of the action if there is a need to mention it. In other words, if the real subject is important and deleting it will affect the meaning of the sentence, we keep it and we use by to introduce the agent.

  • Active: My father wrote this book.
  • Passive: This book was written by my father.

Notice that, in the example above, if we omit the agent (by my father), the sentence will be meaningless!

Sometimes, we do not need to use the by phrase when the real doer of the action is (1) unknown, (2) we don’t want to state it, or (3) it does not add information.


  • My car has been stolen. (I don’t know who has stolen the car.)
  • The window was broken. (I don’t want to mention that my little brother broke the window.)
  • Cars are made in this factory. (It does not add important information if we say that workers make cars in the factory.)


In every passive sentence, you will see that the person or thing affected by the action comes at the beginning of the sentence.

Then the verb always has one form of the verb be + the past participle form of the main verb (Verb 3).

The form of the verb be depends on the tense and time of the original (active) sentence.

  • simple present: be (am / is / are) + past participle
  • simple past: be (was / were) + past participle
  • present continuous: be (am / is / are) + being + past participle
  • past continuous: be (was, were) + being + past participle
  • present perfect: has / have + been + past participle
  • past perfect: had + been + past participle
  • modals: modal (will / would / shall / should / can / could / may / might / must / ought to / have to / had to) + been + past participle

Be careful that you can use the passive voice only when the verb is transitive (takes an object). In the sentences below, we cannot write the sentences in the passive voice because the verbs are intransitive (do not take an object).

  • They arrived in the morning.
  • The baby is laughing.
  • She smiled.
  • It is hot today.
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