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English Grammar in Use – Unit 42: Passive Voice

 Part A:

Study this example:

This house was built in 1961.

Was built is passive.

Compare active and passive:

Somebody built this house in 1961. (active)

subject object

This house was built in 1961. (passive)


When we use an active verb, we say what the subject does:

My grandfather was a builder. He built this house in 1961.

It’s a big company. It employs two hundred people.

When we use a passive verb, we say what happens to the subject:

How old is this house?’ ‘It was built in 1961.’

Two hundred people are employed by the company.


Part B:

When we use the passive, who or what causes the action is often unknown or unimportant:

A lot of money was stolen in the robbery. (somebody stole it, but we don’t know who)

Is this room cleaned every day? (does somebody clean it? – it’s not important who)

If we want to say who does or what causes the action, we use by:

This house was built by my grandfather.

Two hundred people are employed by the company.


Part C:

The passive is be (is/was etc.) + past participle (done/cleaned/seen etc.):

(be) done (be) cleaned (be) damaged (be) built (be) seen etc.

For irregular past participles (done/seen/known etc.), see Appendix 1.

Study the active and passive forms of the present simple and past simple:

Present simple

active clean(s) I see(s) etc.

pass1ve am/is/are + cleaned/seen et c.

Many accidents are caused by careless driving.

I’m not invited to parties very often.

How is this word pronounced?

Past simple

active cleaned/saw etc.

passive was/were + cleaned/seen et c.

Somebody cleans this room every day.

This room is cleaned every day.

Somebody cleaned this room yesterday.

This room was cleaned yesterday.

We were woken up by a loud noise du ring the night.

‘Did you go to the party?’ ‘No, I wasn’t invited.’

How much money was stolen in the robbery?

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