the Passive series


Notes on Passive Voice

watch the Passive Voice: Basics video

  • The active noun is technically called the agent.  It's the subject when it's at the front of the sentence, but in Passive Form, it becomes an object (but it's still the agent), and the passive noun becomes the new subject.  If you ask me, adding and changing the terminology is too much to keep track of for teachers, and even more so for students.  So we'll just call them active nouns and passive nouns, which is simple and consistent.

  • When working with pronouns, an object pronoun that moves to the front of the sentence should be changed to a subject pronoun (for example, 'us' changes to 'we', and 'her' changes to 'she').

  • The passive nouns that can be moved to the front of the sentence for the Passive structure are direct objects and indirect objects.  Passive Voice does not apply to objects of the preposition.

  • If the indirect object you want to feature is proceeded by 'to' or 'for', just drop that preposition when forming Passive Voice.

  • With multiple objects in a sentence, you can typically feature either one at the beginning of the sentence.  For example, suppose we have this sentence: The judges awarded the first prize to Kris.  We can make two different passive sentences:

    • If we're most interested in the award: The first prize was awarded to Kris.

    • If we're most interested in the winner:  Kris was awarded the first prize.

  • "by [active noun]" doesn't necessarily have to go where "[passive noun]" was.  That's a nice place as a default, but you might want to try switching it with other phrases after the verb.  E.g. The treasure was hidden by pirates in Dead Man's Cave. = The treasure was hidden in Dead Man's Cave by pirates.

  • 'by' applies only in front of the active noun, if you choose to keep it.  Other prepositions that might follow verbs in the passive structure include:

    • 'as' (classified as, described as, explained as)

    • 'to' (sent to, delivered to, sentenced to, allowed to) and

    • with' (impressed with, blessed with, charged with), among others.

  • If you want to express transitioning into whatever situation the passive noun is in (as opposed to simply being in that situation), use 'get' or 'become' instead of 'be' in front of the main verb.

  • For questions, to be comes before the passive noun if it's the only auxiliary verb.

  • With news headlines, the helping verb is usually omitted.  E.g. "Bribery Exposed!" instead of "Bribery Was Exposed!", or "Suspect Arrested!" instead of "The Suspect Was Arrested!"



Notes on Passive & Active Adjectives

watch the Passive & Active Adjectives video

  • These are also called 'Participle Adjectives' because they're created from the present participle (active) and past participle (passive) forms.  In true verbal fashion, these participles come from nouns but serve as a different part of speech.

  • Adjectives that end with -ive are very similar to ones that end with -ing.  While the former tells us that the noun has a tendency or capability to do that verb (for example, an explosive chemical has a good chance of exploding), the latter tells us that the noun is doing or has done the verb (an exploding chemical actively causes damage from its explosion).

  • Instead of be, you can use other copula/linking verbs such as seem, become, feel, remain, and more.

  • Not every verb can be turned into a passive adjective; the verb needs to be transitive (it can affect a direct object).

  • Some compound adjectives are formed by placing a connected adjective, adverb, or noun in front of the active or passive noun.  In fact, certain participles can only be used as adjectives if compounded with a preceding word.

    • Adj-Adj:  long-lasting, soft-spoken, odd-sounding, etc.

    • Adv-Adj:  over-done, well-behaved, far-reaching, etc.

    • Noun-Adj:  home-made, hair-raising, moth-infested, etc.

  • While the adjective usually comes either directly before the noun or after a linking verb (to beappears, feels, etc.), it can also come directly after the noun, although this is less common.  An example might be "... with signs held up".  In cases like these, the participles act the same as relative clauses, except they are shortened to a single word or a small phrase.  They are called 'reduced relatives'

  • Not every verb works well as a participle adjective.  Some are great - primarily those that trigger a response (especially an emotional response) - while others work well with passive but not active, or work well with active but not passive.  Other verbs simply don't translate well into either type.

  • Intransitive verbs can not be transformed into passive adjectives.

  • Participle Adjectives as covered here are generally one-word. However, you can add an adverb (perhaps in the form of a prepositional phrase) after the participle to create a Participial Phrase (sometimes mistakenly called a “Participial Clause”). In this case, the phrase would come after the noun it modifies.





Notes on Passive Voice: Verb Transformations [UNFINISHED]

  • The first auxiliary verb may need to change to agree with the new subject (which is now the passive noun).  For example, "Someone has reserved these seats" changes to "These seats have been reserved."

  • Verbs (helping or main) that follow modals are in the base infinitive form, not necessarily the present simple form.  Although the two forms are identical most of the time (except for the 3rd-person 's'), the key exception is with to be.

    • The present simple forms of to be are 'am', 'is', and 'are'.

    • The base infinitive form of to be is 'be'.  Therefore, we say 'must be', 'should be', 'has to be', etc.

    • Past modals, on the other hand, are followed by 'have been'.

  • Whether an adverb comes before or after to be depends on the adverb.  In general (but with some exceptions):

    • Adverbs of frequency, relative time, and certainty come before the passive to be but after the other auxiliary verbs.

    • Adverbs of manner and degree come after the passive to be (and after all of the aux. verbs) but before the main verb.

    • Adverbs of place and of absolute time come after the main verb.  Multi-word adverb phrases also come after the verb.

  • Not comes after the first auxiliary verb.

  • For questions, the first auxiliary verb should come before the new subject.

  • 'to be' should replace do/does/did in negative and interrogative sentences


Related Printouts

  • The 4 Steps to go from Active Voice to Passive Voice (letter) (A4)

  • Topics and Verbs commonly expressed through Passive Voice (letter) (A4)

  • Summary of Passive and Active Adjectives (letter)(A4)

  • Irregular Verbs by Group (letter) (A4)

  • Verb transformation guide (coming soon)


Next in the Series

Passive Voice: Verb Transformations

The verb phrase of passive structures can get a little tricky when it's in other tenses like past continuous or future perfect.  At least, it looks confusing, but forming those sentences isn't any more complicated in actuality.

The trick is that you always have to add to be, even if there already is a to be, which means there could be two of them, but that's okay.

The other thing to remember is that the to be you add has to be in the form that the main verb was originally in (with active voice), and it should come after all the other helping verbs.

Causative Form

essentially the same as regular passive, but instead of to be we use 'make', 'get', or 'have'

Mediopassive Voice

aka Middle Voice: usually has the structure of active voice but the properties of passive voice; this is common with stative verbs and receptive verbs as well as with reflexive and reciprocal clauses