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Passive Voice

The active voice

The active voice occurs when you use the following simple sentence construction:

subject + active verb + object

Here are some examples of active voice sentences:

  • I bought a camera
  • That seagull stole my sandwich
  • I made mistakes

The passive voice

The passive voice, on the other hand, occurs when you structure it this way:

subject + auxiliary verb + main verb

Here’s what these sentences look like with the passive voice:

  • A camera was bought by me
  • My sandwich was stolen by that seagull
  • Mistakes were made by me

As you can see, a lot of the action is now missing from these sentences. The passive voice can also remove the subject entirely and still make sense:

  • A camera was bought
  • My sandwich was stolen
  • Mistakes were made

Passive voice conjugation

The passive voice requires conjugation of the verb ‘to be’:

  • Is
  • Is being
  • Was
  • Was being
  • Has been
  • Had been
  • Will be 
  • Will be being
  • Would be
  • Would have been
  • Must be 

The function of passive voice

Stylistic advantages and disadvantages aside, here are the main two functions of passive voice:

  • To convey reasonable doubt or uncertainty
  • To distance oneself from an action

The passive voice is most often used in academic papers or in legal writing. Generally speaking, it has a formal tone. It is used to express an interest in the object rather than the subject of a sentence. For example, ‘mistakes were made’ implies the focal point of the sentence is the mistake, and not the person who made it.

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