Passive Voice: Form & Examples

Instructor: Mary Firestone
Learn about the passive voice and how it affects your writing. Find out how to create the passive voice or how to remove it, and how it works in the present and past tenses.


The passive voice happens when the subject of a sentence is receiving the action instead of doing it. It contrasts with the active voice, where the subject is the agent of action. Passive voice sentences are not incorrect, but people often avoid them because they're not as easy to understand. Passive voice sentences can occur in both past and future tense.

Here are some examples:

That pizza was eaten by Sam. Sam, the subject, comes after the verb eaten. This creates a passive voice.

Sam ate that pizza. Sam, the subject, is before the verb. This creates the active voice.

Passive Voice: Past and Future Tense

Passive voice sentences like That pizza was eaten by Sam are in the past tense. The past tense passive voice always includes a form of the verb 'to be' (am, are, is, were, was, being, been, and be) and a past participle of the main verb. A participle is a word formed from a verb. For example in this sentence, eaten (past participle) is formed from eat.

The future tense passive voice also has the be verb, but these sentences include the modal verb will and the past participle. A modal is a word that expresses possibility.

I will write the article. Active voice (subject is before the verb)

The article will be written by me. Passive voice (subject is after the verb)

Less Common Types of Passive Voice Sentences

Some passive voice sentences are awkward and less common.

For example, Writing is something he does. In this passive voice sentence, writing is the action. But the agent of action is he, so he is the subject. Writing appears to be the subject but isn't. The subject follows the verb in this sentence, so it's in the passive voice. If you reconstructed this sentence in the active voice, you might just say, He writes.

Another less common type of passive voice sentence occurs when the agent of action is ambiguous or unknown, as in these two examples:

His house was robbed yesterday. (by someone unknown)

The new stadium will be built on the north side of town. (by some yet-unnamed company)

In these sentences, the verb comes before the subject, since the unknown subject is implied.

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