Active / Passive Verb Forms
Sentences can be active or passive. Therefore, tenses also have "active forms" and "passive forms." You must learn to recognize the difference to successfully speak English.
In active sentences, the thing doing the action is the subject of the sentence and the thing receiving the action is the object. Most sentences are active.
[Thing doing action] + [verb] + [thing receiving action]
In passive sentences, the thing receiving the action is the subject of the sentence and the thing doing the action is optionally included near the end of the sentence. You can use the passive form if you think that the thing receiving the action is more important or should be emphasized. You can also use the passive form if you do not know who is doing the action or if you do not want to mention who is doing the action.
[Thing receiving action] + [be] + [past participle of verb] + [by] + [thing doing action]
Active / Passive Overview
Simple Present Once a week, Tom cleans the house. Once a week, the house is cleaned by Tom.
Present Continuous Right now, Sarah is writing the letter. Right now, the letter is being written by Sarah.
Simple Past Sam repaired the car. The car was repaired by Sam.
Past Continuous The salesman was helping the customer when the thief came into the store. The customer was being helped by the salesman when the thief came into the store.
Present Perfect Many tourists have visited that castle. That castle has been visited by many tourists.
Present Perfect Continuous Recently, John has been doing the work. Recently, the work has been being done by John.
Past Perfect George had repaired many cars before he received his mechanic's license. Many cars had been repaired by George before he received his mechanic's license.
Past Perfect Continuous Chef Jones had been preparing the restaurant's fantastic dinners for two years before he moved to Paris. The restaurant's fantastic dinners had been being prepared by Chef Jones for two years before he moved to Paris.
WILL Someone will finish the work by 5:00 PM. The work will be finished by 5:00 PM.
BE GOING TO Sally is going to make a beautiful dinner tonight. A beautiful dinner is going to be made by Sally tonight.
WILL At 8:00 PM tonight, John will be washing the dishes. At 8:00 PM tonight, the dishes will be being washed by John.
BE GOING TO At 8:00 PM tonight, John is going to be washing the dishes. At 8:00 PM tonight, the dishes are going to be being washed by John.
WILL They will have completed the project before the deadline. The project will have been completed before the deadline.
BE GOING TO They are going to have completed the project before the deadline. The project is going to have been completed before the deadline.
Future Perfect Continuous
WILL The famous artist will have been painting the mural for over six months by the time it is finished. The mural will have been being painted by the famous artist for over six months by the time it is finished.
Future Perfect Continuous
BE GOING TO The famous artist is going to have been painting the mural for over six months by the time it is finished. The mural is going to have been being painted by the famous artist for over six months by the time it is finished.
Used to Jerry used to pay the bills. The bills used to be paid by Jerry.
Would Always My mother would always make the pies. The pies would always be made by my mother.
Future in the Past
WOULD I knew John would finish the work by 5:00 PM. I knew the work would be finished by 5:00 PM.
Future in the Past
WAS GOING TO I thought Sally was going to make a beautiful dinner tonight. I thought a beautiful dinner was going to be made by Sally tonight.
ACTIVE / PASSIVE VOICE
In most English sentences with an action verb, the subject performs the action denoted by the verb.
These examples show that the subject is doing the verb's action.
Because the subject does or "acts upon" the verb in such sentences, the sentences are said to be in the active voice.
One can change the normal word order of many active sentences (those with a direct object) so that the subject is no longer active, but is, instead, being acted upon by the verb - or passive.
Note in these examples how the subject-verb relationship has changed.
Because the subject is being "acted upon" (or is passive), such sentences are said to be in the passive voice.
NOTE: Colorful parrots live in the rainforests cannot be changed to passive voice because the sentence does not have a direct object.
To change a sentence from active to passive voice, do the following:
1. Move the active sentence's direct object into the sentence's subject slot
2. Place the active sentence's subject into a phrase beginning with the preposition by
3. Add a form of the auxiliary verb be to the main verb and change the main verb's form
Because passive voice sentences necessarily add words and change the normal doer-action-receiver of action direction, they may make the reader work harder to understand the intended meaning.
As the examples below illustrate, a sentence in active voice flows more smoothly and is easier to understand than the same sentence in passive voice.
It is generally preferable to use the ACTIVE voice.
To change a passive voice sentence into an active voice sentence, simply reverse the steps shown above.
1. Move the passive sentence's subject into the active sentence's direct object slot
2. Remove the auxiliary verb be from the main verb and change main verb's form if needed
3. Place the passive sentence's object of the preposition by into the subject slot.
Because it is more direct, most writers prefer to use the active voice whenever possible.
The passive voice may be a better choice, however, when
• the doer of the action is unknown, unwanted, or unneeded in the sentence
• the writer wishes to emphasize the action of the sentence rather than the doer of the action
• the writer wishes to use passive voice for sentence variety.