Active sentences vs passive sentences
When A does B, we have two possible ways of talking about it: active or passive. In active sentences A is the subject (before the verb). In passive sentences B is the subject. Check the following examples:
- Somebody cleaned the classroom yesterday. (Active)
- The classroom was cleaned every day. (Passive)
As you can see, the object of an active sentence is the subject of a passive sentence. You can learn how to form the passive in all the different verb tenses here.
When do we use the passive?
The passive is more formal than the active and it is more common in written language. We often use the passive when we don’t know, when it is obvious, or when we don’t want so say who or what is responsible for the action.
- A bank was robbed yesterday. (We don’t know who robbed the bank.)
- The robber was arrested last night. (It’s obvious that the police arrested the robber.)
- I was told that you insulted my brother. (I don’t want to say who told me.)
- Jurassic Park was filmed by Spielberg in 1993. (I’m talking about Jurassic Park and not about Spielberg.)
The passive voice is very common in the news and in formal writing.
- Arsenal have been defeated 3-‐0 and they are now 4th in the table.
- The British embassy in Israel has been destroyed by an earthquake.
- The Catalan election will be held next September.
Passive voice + by
We can use by to say who or what is responsible for the action.
- The painting was bought by a very rich American.
- Penicillin was invented by Alexander Fleming.