Active and Passive Voice | Rules for All Tenses

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Mark Twain was in London when he heard that his obituary news had been published by mistake. He sent a cable to the USA, which read: the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.

Introduction to Active and Passive Voice

Voice is one of the five basic properties of English grammar. The other four are mood, tense, person, and number. Voice is the connection between the subject and the object, which are linked through a verb. It's interesting to see how English enables us to play with sentences by changing the word order, and come up with two entirely different structures to form active and passive. While the active voice is undoubtedly the more common of the two, the passive voice is used to serve certain purposes. In this lesson, we are going to take a look at how and when we use active and passive voices.

What Is Active Voice?

The active voice is a style of writing where the subject acts upon its verb. Here, the subject always comes first, followed by the verb and the complements. The active voice is so called because, unlike the passive voice where the subject is passive, the subject here is active.

Example Sentences with Active Voice

Andrew hit the ball.

Students always learn by doing.

People call Orlando the theme park capital of the world.

Catherine doesn't enjoy visiting malls.

When to Use Active Voice

The active voice is the more preferred of the two voices. Because using active voice helps make writing shorter, more precise, and more straightforward, a lot of people choose to use it in most of their communication. This means unless there is a specific requirement making passive voice an ideal choice, we stick to active voice. Given this fact, there are more rules for when to use passive voice than there are for when to use active voice.

Advantages of Active Voice

  • Since a sentence in active voice has a clear subject, it is easier for the reader to understand the sentence.

    Consider the below sentence, for example:

    I love reading Mark Twain's witty quotes. (active voice)

    If we wrote the sentence in passive voice, it would sound awkward.

    Reading Mark Twain's witty quotes is loved by me. (passive voice)

    If we rewrote the sentence "Reading Mark Twain's witty quotes is a favorite pastime of mine", it would sound great. But, this is yet again an instance of active voice and not of passive voice.

  • Active voice instantly connects with the reader. This is because it's free from the tangle of phrases that often accompany the passive voice.

    Read the following example:

    Mr. Miller said the park must introduce an entrance fee in order to facilitate uninterrupted service. (active voice)

    It was said by Mr. Miller that an entrance fee must be introduced by the park in order for uninterrupted service to be facilitated. (passive voice)

    The string of phrases introduced in the passive version of this sentence makes it a little hard for the reader to understand. Hence, we prefer to use the active voice.

What Is Passive Voice?

The passive voice is the style of writing where you change the order of words and make the object of the action the subject of a sentence. In other words, the subject is the recipient of a verb's action. It's called passive because, unlike the active voice where the subject is active, the real subject is passive here.

How to Recognize Passive Voice

To recognize if a sentence is in passive voice, look for the following words. This is not an exhaustive list, though.

has been
have been
will be

Example Sentences with Passive Voice

Kim's wallet was stolen during the fair.

50 volunteers are required to make the campaign a success.

Over 1000 people were killed during the war.

The results will be published later today.

When to Use Passive Voice

There are specific rules for when using the passive voice is better or more appropriate than using active voice.

  • when we don't know who is responsible for the action


    My pet dog has been stolen. (Someone has stolen the dog; we don't know who it is.)

    My essay has been corrected. (You gave your essay to the correction service, and one of the teachers corrected it.)

  • when it's not important who did the action, or we don't want people to know who did it


    My car was fixed on Monday. (What is important is that the car was fixed; we don't really care who fixed it.)

    Mistakes were made. (We don't want to specifically mention who made the mistakes.)

  • when the reader or listener knows who did the action


    Kenneth has been asked to submit the grammar assignment again. (It's obvious from the context that it's the English teacher who has asked Kenneth to submit the assignment again.)

  • when people in general are responsible for the action


    The worksheet can be freely downloaded from the website. (Anybody can download a free worksheet, so the passive voice is used.)

  • when we report crimes or write in scientific contexts


    The burglars were arrested as soon as they left the building.

    The animals were kept in a zoo for two years as part of an experiment.

Subjects in Passive Voice

The subject in passive voice is introduced with "by". That said, not every passive sentence has a by phrase containing the subject. Subjects can sometimes be assumed or remembered from a previous sentence.


The dish was prepared by Grandma. (The subject is introduced in the by phrase.)

After the party, a lot of food was wasted. (The subject is not mentioned, but it can be assumed from the context.)

There was a gathering at Grandma's. All family members were invited. (In the second sentence, the subject "Grandma" is remembered from the first sentence.)

How to Convert Active Voice into Passive Voice

The chart below includes all tenses that are used in passive voice. There is no passive voice for perfect progressive tenses (present, past, and future) and future progressive tense.

Active Voice
Passive Voice
Active Sentence
Passive Sentence
present simple
is read
Keith reads the poem.
The poem is read by Keith.
present progressive
is reading
is being read
Keith is reading the poem.
The poem is being read by Keith.
past simple
was read
Keith read the poem.
The poem was read by Keith.
past progressive
was reading
was being read
Keith was reading the poem.
The poem was being read by Keith.
future simple
will read
will be read
Keith will read the poem.
The poem will be read by Keith.
present perfect
has read
has been read
Keith has read the poem.
The poem has been read by Keith.
past perfect
had read
had been read
Keith had read the poem.
The poem had been read by Keith.
future perfect
will have read
will have been read
Keith will have read the poem.
The poem will have been read by Keith.
conditional present
would read
would be read
If Keith had the poem, he would read it.
If Keith had the poem, it would be read by him.
conditional past
would have read
would have been read
Keith would have read the poem if he had had it.
The poem would have been read by Keith if he had had it.
present infinitive
to read
to be read
Keith wants to read the poem.
The poem wants to be read by Keith.

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Sample Worksheets

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