Passive Sentence

by Craig Shrives

What Is a Passive Sentence?

A passive sentence is a sentence where the subject does not perform the action of the verb. In fact, in a passive sentence, the action of the verb is done to the subject. For example:
  • The cake was eaten.
  • (In this example, the subject is "the cake." The subject did not perform the action of the verb "to eat." The action of the verb was done to the subject. So, this is a passive sentence.)
  • The cake was eaten by Lee.
  • (In a passive sentence, we can use "by" to show the doer of the action (called the agent).)

Table of Contents

  • Examples of Passive Sentences
  • With a Passive Sentence, Use "By" to Show the Agent
  • Some Interactive Examples
  • What Does "Passive Voice" Mean?
  • Video Lesson
  • Why Passive Sentences Are Important
  • Printable Test
passive sentence

Examples of Passive Sentences

Here are some more examples of passive sentences:
  • Anita was driven to the theatre.
  • (In this example, Anita did not perform the action of the verb "to drive." The action was done to her. She was the recipient of the action.)
  • Nowadays, black kites are protected.
  • (The action is being done to the subject "black kites.")
  • The olives are stoned and crushed in this room.
  • (The actions are being done to the subject "the olives.")

With a Passive Sentence, Use "By" to Show the Agent

In a passive sentence, the person or thing doing the action (the agent) is usually preceded by the word "by." For example:
  • Anita was driven to the theatre by Carla.
  • Nowadays, black kites are protected by law.
  • The olives are stoned and crushed in this room by my son.
The opposite of a passive sentence is an active sentence. In an active sentence. the subject performs the action of the verb.

Some Interactive Examples

Here are some interactive examples. In these examples, the agent (i.e., the person carrying out the action) is in bold.
  • My cousin tackled the shoplifter.
  • Heidi smashed the vase.
  • Carl sounded the alarm when David reported the smoke.
  • Carl sounded the alarm when David reported the smoke.

What Does "Passive Voice" Mean?

The verb in a passive sentence is said to be in the passive voice. Likewise, the verb in an active sentence is said to be in the active voice. For example:
  • The bed was made by Rachel.
  • (In this passive sentence, "was made" is in the passive voice.)
  • Rachel made the bed.
  • (In this active sentence, "made" is in the active voice.)
Read more about grammatical voice. Here is a video summarizing this lesson on active and passive sentences.

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

Active sentences come in the form "A affected B." Passive sentences, however, come in the form "B was affected by A." As a result, active sentences are the easier to read, and they are often more succinct and direct. Consequently, lots of companies instruct their staff to avoid using passive sentences. This practice is so common that many grammar checkers (be they computer programs or real people) will suggest an active version of your passive sentence. However, if you prefer your passive version, stick with it.

Here are five good reasons to use passive sentences.

(Reason 1) Passive sentences are useful to avoid blame.

Passive sentences are quite useful if you're trying not to apportion blame.
  • The document had been released into the public domain.
  • (This passive sentence hides the blame.)
Look at the active version:
  • Jackie released the document into the public domain.
  • (Jaaaaackiiieeeeeeeeeeeeee!)
Here are some more examples that do not reveal who was responsible:
  • Bad advice was given.
  • A serious failing in standing operating procedures had occurred.

(Reason 2) Passive sentences can show a neutral or objective tone.

  • It is anticipated that concessions will be offered by both parties.
  • (This passive sentence expresses a neutral tone.)

(Reason 3) Passive sentences are appropriate when the doer of the action is unimportant, unknown, or obvious.

  • Pistachio nuts are grown in Iran.
  • (The doer of the action (called "the agent") is unimportant.)
  • His parade uniform was stolen.
  • (The agent is unknown.)
  • The thief was arrested.
  • (The agent is obvious. It's the police.)

(Reason 4) Passive sentences allow you to put something you want to emphasize at the start of your sentence.

  • An estimated 258,000 people were injured in alcohol-related crashes.
  • (The number of people is the focus of this sentence.)

(Reason 5) A passive construction allows you to use the same subject twice.

  • Martin crashed into the barrier and was tossed in the crowd.
  • (In this sentence, the subject is "Martin." The verb "crashed" is an active verb. It is followed by "was tossed," which is a passive verb. This construction allows you to say two things about "Martin" in a natural and efficient way.)

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