How to use the Passive Voice 😅 English Grammar Lesson


Hello I'm Emma from mmmEnglish!

This lesson is at the top of my request list.

So many of you have been asking me for a lesson

about the passive voice

so I'm glad that I finally got it ready for you.

Now, this can be a really confusing grammar

structure in English.

Lots of my students ask

"What's the point of the passive voice?

Is it really that important?"


Understanding the passive voice is important.

In this lesson, you'll learn

what it looks like, why it's useful

and you'll practise using it with me.

The passive voice is used often

by native English speakers.

It's a mistake to think that it's only used

in formal speech.

It's also used informally, quite a bit!

So stay with me through this entire lesson,

keep focused

it's not that long.

Before we keep going, a quick little reminder to join

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mistakes that English learners make

and learn how to avoid them with me.

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that we've got going on.

So why should you use the passive voice?

Well there are times when you don't want to say who

or what did the action.

Maybe you're trying to avoid responsibility

for something you did

or you don't want to get your mate into trouble

or maybe you don't know who did the action or

or because actually the object is the most important

or the most interesting part of the sentence.

So that's the thing that the action is happening to

not the thing that is doing the action.

You can use the passive to change

the focus of your sentence.

So let's go back a moment.

To understand the passive voice,

I should really first explain the active voice

but you already know it,

it looks like like this.

The children ate the cake.

Subject, verb, object.

Now most English sentences

are more complicated than this but we'll start simply.

The subject does the action to the object.

The children ate the cake.

Now, imagine that you left for work in the morning

and there was a whole cake on the kitchen table.

But by the time you got home,

it had completely disappeared.

You don't know who ate it,

I mean, you could probably guess, but you don't know.

Where is this cake?

The cake was eaten

by somebody.

So the solution is to use the passive voice

because we don't know who ate the cake.

Now, sometimes we're just more interested

in the object of the sentence rather than the subject.

English speakers frequently use the passive voice.

But this lesson isn't about English speakers,

it's about the passive voice.

It's the most important thing.

So we can change it to say the passive voice

is frequently used by English speakers.

Now you'll often read passive sentences in newspapers

when the journalist can't say who did something.

Maybe because they don't know who did it.

It's also used in scientific reports and legal documents

because the information has to be objective

so often there is no subject.

Now some other really common passive expressions

that you already know.

Be born.

We don't say "My mother bore me on June 23rd 1989."

I was born on June 23rd 1989.

When your friend tells you about his new colleague,

he won't say "People call him Tony"

he'll say "He's called Tony" or "He's named Tony"

'The Stand' was written by Stephen King.

The movie Deadpool was directed by Tim Miller.

The national anthem was sung by Fergie.

In all of these really common examples,

you can see the structure of the passive voice.

The be verb followed by the past participle.

I thought we only use the past participle verb

in the perfect tenses?

Yeah we do use it in the perfect tenses

and in the passive voice.

If you see the be verb followed by

the past participle form,

you know that this is a passive sentence.

So let's go back to the first example to explain the form

of a passive sentence.

If our active sentence is "The children ate the cake"

the passive sentence is

"The cake was eaten by the children"

The object of the active sentence becomes the subject

in the passive sentence.

To make the object of the active sentence

become the subject,

we actually need to change a few things in our sentence

So are you ready to learn how to do that?

Here's our active sentence,

to make a passive sentence,

we need to use the passive tense

and there are six steps to turn an active sentence

into a passive sentence.

Now you might want to take a notepad out

so that you can write them down as we go.

Step one, identify the subject, the verb and the object

of the active sentence.

Step two, move the object to become the new subject

of our sentence.

Step three, check the active sentence.

What is the verb tense in the active sentence?

This is really important because the passive voice

exists across different tenses

so you must check what tense the active sentence is in

to make your passive sentence correct.

It's in the past simple, "The children ate the cake".


Step four, conjugate the verb be

so that it's in the same tense

as the main verb in the active sentence.

We need to change our be verb

verb to the past simple

so it becomes was or were

depending on the new subject

and our new subject is the cake

so we can choose was, "The cake was".

Step five,

add the past participle of the main verb after be.

So looking back at the active sentence,

the main verb is eat,

though it's in past simple form

but can you think of the past participle of eat?

Eaten, right?

Now the last step, step six,

you need to decide what to do with the subject

of your active sentence.

The children.

In the passive voice, you don't have to include

the thing that is doing the action.

You can completely remove

that former subject from your sentence

and that's helpful if you don't know who ate the cake

or you don't want to say who it was

or you don't care - maybe it's not important.

But you can add it to the end of your sentence

with the word by.

The cake was eaten by the children.

Let's look at some more examples together.

The house was built in 1893.

The car will be sold by the weekend.

The washing had been left out in the rain.

Many people's lives were saved.

Can you see the passive form here?

The be verb is always there but it tells us the tense.

It helps to describe when something happened

and it also conjugates with the subject.

People's lives were saved.

The house was built.

And the be verb is always followed

by the past participle.

We can also explain who or what did the action

by adding by.

The house was built by her grandfather.

This car will be sold by the salesman.

The washing had been left out in the rain

by her husband.

Many people's lives were saved by the volunteers.

Okay let's try a new sentence together.

I want you to do this one with me please.

Can you remember the six steps?

Someone has stolen my neighbour's car.

This is an active sentence.

Now can you remember step number one?

It's easy! Identify the subject, verb and object.

Step two, make the object the subject.

Step three,

tell me what tense is used

in the original active sentence.

The present perfect tense.

Step four, you need to conjugate the be verb

so that it's in the same tense.

The neighbor's car has been.

We're using has because the subject is now the car.

Step five, add the main verb in past participle form.

The neighbor's car has been stolen.

It's the same verb as the original sentence,

which was also the past participle.

Step six, decide

do you need to include the thing that did the action?

Is it really that important?

Maybe not

because we don't really know anything about who did it,

it's just someone.

I'd probably just leave it as

my neighbor's car has been stolen.

But if we knew a little bit more about who or what did it,

we could definitely include it.

My neighbor's car has been stolen by someone.

My neighbor's car has been stolen by a monkey.

So the passive form always includes the be verb

with the past participle

and if you need to include any information about

what or who did the action use by.

Okay, I've got

three more examples for you to practise with.

We made lots of money in 2002.

Lots of money was made by us in 2002.

I will clean the house on Monday.

The house will be cleaned by me on Monday.

He built the house for his parents.

The house was built by him for his parents.

Okay now that's enough for this lesson

but there is actually a lot more to practise

about the passive voice

like how to use the negative forms and questions,

how to use modal verbs in the passive voice,

how to include adverbs of manner

to explain how something is done.

But there is enough information right there

for a whole new lesson so I'll get to that.

Practise your passive sentences in the comments

under this video and make sure that you

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That's it from me today, I'll see you next week

for another mmmEnglish lesson. Bye for now!