Do you know the difference between active and passive sentences? Today you’ll learn to master it!
In an active sentence, the person or thing that does something is the subject. Then we have the verb, and then the object:
Someone – ate – an apple.
However, sometimes we might want to start the sentence with the object because we think it is more important than the person who does something, or we might not even want to mention who does something. In these cases, we use the passive form:
An apple – was eaten – (by someone).
We don’t need to say “by someone” in this case because it is not important, but we’ll see more about this later. First, let’s think about how to form the passive.
First, the part before the verb (subject) moves after the verb, with the word “by”, and the part after the verb (object) moves before the verb.
Active: Someone – … – an apple [Símbolo] Passive: An apple – … – by someone
What happens with the verb? We have to think what the tense is. In our example, “ate” is the past simple, so we need to write the same tense, the past simple, with the verb to be, “was/were”. We need to use “was” because “an apple” is singular. Then, we add the verb of our example, “to eat”, in the past participle form (the third column for irregular verbs, or just –ed for regular verbs).
An apple was eaten by someone.
The tense of the verb “to be” will depend on the tense of the verb in the first sentence. After the verb “to be”, the main verb is always in the third column. Here you have an example with some tenses so you can see the change:
When do we use the passive? Here you have a few cases with examples:
When we want to change the focus of the sentence:
- Romeo and Juliet was written by William Shakespeare. (We are focusing more in the book than in the writer.)
When the person or the thing that does the action is unknown, obvious or unimportant. In this cases, we don’t need to write the “by” part at the end:
- My wallet has been stolen. (We don’t know who stole it)
- In Spain, Spanish is spoken. (It is obvious that it refers to Spanish people)
- I was told the exam is on Monday. (The person who told me is unimportant)
In facts or scientific writing, to make it sound more formal:
- The chemical is places in a test tube and the data entered into the computer.
In formal writing to avoid using “someone/people/they” which is not very informative:
- The enrolment period will be closed soon.
When the subject is very long:
- I was surprised by how well the students did in the exam.
Now it’s your time to lose fear of using the passive and making it part of your daily English. It will make you sound much more natural!