Three uses for passive voice in English

We can change the focus of an active sentence in English by expressing it in passive voice, which is very useful for many different reasons...


Many verbs in English can be expressed using the active voice or the passive voice and this is very useful in English, but it can be a little confusing as well, so in this video we're going to look at how we use the passive, why we use the passive and then at the end we'll do a little practice quiz to see how much you've learnt.

Firstly, let's have a look at a very simple example to see how we use the passive so we can look at the structure, we can look at the grammatical form of passive. Here's a very simple example of an active verb. "My dog ate my homework". 'My dog' is the subject, 'ate' is the verb, the past of 'eat', and 'my homework' is the object. Now let's say I don't know who ate my homework. We need to make 'my homework' the subject of the sentence. So we change the word order. We put 'my homework' at the beginning of the sentence, then we need to change the verb from active to passive. So 'ate' becomes 'was eaten'. So we change the past of the verb 'ate' to the passive form. So we use the auxiliary verb 'be', in this case it's in the past, so we use 'was', and we use the past participle of the verb, which is 'eaten'. "My homework was eaten". This is 'noun' plus 'be' plus 'past participle'. If you want to say who did the action, if you know, you could say: "My homework was eaten BY my dog". But if you don't know who ate your homework, you could just say: "My homework was eaten". So next time you forget to do your homework you can tell that to your teacher!

OK, so that's the form of the passive. Now let's look at some different examples of when we use the passive and how we use the passive. In this video, we're going to look at three examples of how and when we use the passive and then in the next video, we'll look at three more.

The first example is: "My car was stolen". In this case, we don't know who did the action, we don't know who stole my car, so we focus on 'my car' and not the person who stole the car, because we don't know who that was. We're also focusing on the car because to me the car is more important. What's important is my car has gone and I need to call the police.

Number two, another very common use of the passive is when the person who does the action is obvious, so we don't need to say who did the action. So for example: "The thief was arrested". So we're not saying who arrested the thief. We're focusing on the fact that the thief has been caught. "The thief was arrested". Who arrested the thief? Well that's obvious. There's only one person or one group of people who can arrest someone and that is obviously the police. So we don't need to say: "The police arrested the thief". We say: "The thief was arrested".

OK, in the third example the passive is very useful and very commonly used if we want to focus on the object of the action. If the object is more important. So let's say for example: "The world wide web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee" or "The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell". In these two examples we want to focus on the thing, the thing that was done, the thing that was invented. The 'world wide web' in the first example and 'the telephone' in the second example. So, the passive here is very useful. In both examples, we can focus on what was invented. OK, I hope that's quite straightforward, that's quite clear.

Let's do a quick practice now to see how much you understand. I'm going to give you an example active sentence and I want you to change that active sentence into a passive sentence. If you need a bit of time to think about your answer or to write it down, you can pause the video.

OK, so you now have three uses of the passive, three examples of when we use the passive and how we use it. If it's not clear then go back and watch the video again. The second time is always easier. In the next video, we'll look at three more uses for the passive in English.

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Good luck, keep practising your English, practise every day, and I'll see you in the next video lesson.