The passive

In an active sentence, the subject is the person or thing that performs the action:
  • Masked thieves stole a valuable painting from the museum last night.

When you make this into a passive sentence, the object of the verb becomes the subject:
  • A valuable painting was stolen from the museum last night.

The passive is formed with the auxiliary verb be and the past participle of the verb:
  • The painting is valued at 2 million dollars.
  • The lock had been broken and the cameras had been switched off.
  • Other museums have been warned to take extra care.
  • Staff at the museum will be questioned by police tomorrow.
  • Museum security is to be improved.

Use the passive:

■ when you do not know who performed the action, or when this information is not important. It is common in formal writing, for example scientific writing:
  • The liquid is heated to 60o and then filtered.

NOTE If you want to mention who performed the action, you use by at the end of the sentence:
  • The theft is being investigated by the police.

■ when you want to save new or important information until the end of the sentence for emphasis:
  • The picture was painted by Constable.

It is possible to put a verb that has two objects into the passive:
  •  (active) The director told the staff the news this morning.
  • (passive) The staff were told the news this morning by the director.

NOTE  Some verbs cannot be used in the passive.

© Oxford University Press

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