Active And Passive Voice | Basic Rules


When we say what people and things do, we use active verb forms. When we say what happens to people and things – what is done to them – we often use passive verb forms.

The object of an active verb corresponds to the subject of a passive verb.

In most cases, the subject of an active verb is not mentioned in the corresponding passive sentence. If it does have to be mentioned, this usually happens in an expression with by.

Passives: Agents

In most cases, the subject of an active verb (the agent) is not mentioned in the corresponding passive sentence. If it does have to be mentioned, we usually use an expression with by.

It should be noted that by is not the only word with which the agent can be introduced. After the past participles of some ‘stative’ verbs (verbs which refer to states, not actions) other prepositions can be used instead of by.

With is used when we talk about an instrument which is used by an agent to do an action.

Passives: Verbs with two objects

Many verbs can be followed by two objects – an indirect object and a direct object. The indirect object usually refers to a person and the direct object usually refers to a thing. Two structures are possible.

Both these structures can be made passive.

Another example is given below.

Common verbs that are followed by two objects include give, send, show, lend, pay, promise, refuse, tell and offer.

Passives: object complements

After some verbs the direct object can be followed by an object complement – a noun or adjective which describes or classifies the object.

When these clauses are made passive, these objects complements become subject complements; they come after the verb.

Passives: Sentences with infinitive and clause objects

Some sentences have infinitives or clauses as their objects. Passive structures are not normally possible with these sentences.

However, most of these structures can be made passive if it is used as a preparatory subject for the clause.

Passives: Verbs with object + infinitive

Most verbs can be followed by object + infinitive. Most of these structures can be made passive.

Note

All active verbs cannot be followed by object + infinitive. The verb say is one of them. With say the infinitive structure is only possible in the passive.