* You use the passive voice to focus on the person or thing affected by an action.
* You form the passive by using a form of `be’ and a past participle.
* Only verbs that have an object can have a passive form. With verbs that can have two objects, either object can be the subject of the passive.
1 When you want to talk about the person or thing that performs an action, you use the active voice.
Mr Smith locks the gate at 6 o’clock every night.
The storm destroyed dozens of trees.
When you want to focus on the person or thing that is affected by an action, rather than the person or thing that performs the action, you use the passive voice.
The gate is locked at 6 o’clock every night.
Dozens of trees were destroyed.
2 The passive is formed with a form of the auxiliary `be’, followed by the past participle of a main verb.
Two new stores were opened this year.
The room had been cleaned.
Continuous passive tenses are formed with a form of the auxiliary `be’ followed by `being’ and the past participle of a main verb.
Jobs are still being lost.
It was being done without his knowledge.
3 After modals you use the base form `be’ followed by the past participle of a main verb.
What can be done?
We won’t be beaten.
When you are talking about the past, you use a modal with `have been’ followed by the past participle of a main verb.
He may have been given the car.
He couldn’t have been told by Jimmy.
4 You form passive infinitives by using `to be’ or `to have been’ followed by the past participle of a main verb.
He wanted to be forgiven.
The car was reported to have been stolen.
5 In informal English, `get’ is sometimes used instead of `be’ to form the passive.
Our car gets cleaned every weekend.
He got killed in a plane crash.
6 When you use the passive, you often do not mention the person or thing that performs the action at all. This may be because you do not know or do not want to say who it is, or because it does not matter.
Her boyfriend was shot in the chest.
Your application was rejected.
Such items should be carefully packed in tea chests.
7 If you are using the passive and you do want to mention the person or thing that performs the action, you use `by’.
He had been poisoned by his girlfriend.
He was brought up by an aunt.
You use `with’ to talk about something that is used to perform the action.
A circle was drawn in the dirt with a stick.
He was killed with a knife.
8 Only verbs that usually have an object can have a passive form. You can say `people spend money’ or `money is spent’.
An enormous amount of money is spent on beer.
The food is sold at local markets.
With verbs which can have two objects, you can form two different passive sentences. For example, you can say `The secretary was given the key’ or `The key was given to the secretary’.
They were offered a new flat.
The books will be sent to you.
See Unit 52 for more information on verbs that can have two objects.