Using the Passive Voice

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Using the Passive in Essay Writing

When we use the passive voice, we take the object and move it into the subject position.  We do this primarily when the subject is less important and the object (the action) is more important.  Take for example:

My glasses were broken.

In this case, it is not so important to know who the person was as much as it is to know what happened.  So instead of saying, “Someone broke my glasses,” which focuses on the person,  we can say, “My glasses were broken,” focusing on the action.

When using the passive voice, we should use it as little as possible.  If we use it too much, our essay will tend to become vague and somewhat hard to follow. So we should use the passive only when it is necessary to emphasis the action or avoid mentioning the person.

Example sentences:

  • The cafeteria has already made lunch. >> Lunch has already been made.
  • The United States imports cars from Japan. >> Cars are imported from Japan.
  • The company made that dress of wool >> That dress is made* of wool.
  • The teacher will give the math test on Monday. >> The math test will be given on Monday.
  • He could have done the laundry last night. >> The laundry could have been done last night.
  • That hat was made in Brazil.
  • English and French are spoken in Canada.
  • The Stature of Liberty can be seen from this building.

*When we talk about what things are made of, we leave the passive in the present tense. Because to change it to the past would imply the material has changed.

  • Her dress was made in Thailand.
  • Her dress was made by a Thai company.
  • Her dress is made of cotton.

Compare the difference between active and passive verbs.

Active Passive
make is made
made was made
has made has been made
have made has been made
will make will be made
can make can be made
could have made could have been made

Richard Carrigan, MSE

Richard Carrigan has been an educator for over 30 years and a filmmaker for the past ten years. He has experience teaching English as a Second Language in Asia and teaching university students in the United States. He earned his undergraduate degree from Loma Linda University and his graduate degree from Shenandoah University.