What Is a Passive Sentence? (with Examples)

Passive Sentence

In a passive sentence, the subject does not perform the action in the sentence. In fact, the action is performed on it. For example:

passive sentences

More 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 Actor

In a passive sentence, the person or thing doing the action (the actor) 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 which the subject does perform the action of the verb.

Some Interactive Examples

Here are some interactive examples. In these examples, the actor (i.e., the person carrying out the action) is in bold.

  • My cousin tackled the shoplifter.
  • Heidi smashed the vase.
  • Carl sounded the alarm in a panic.
  • Carl sounded the alarm due to the panic.

Why Should I Care About Passive Sentences?

Active sentences come in the form "A did B." Passive sentences, however, come in the form "B was done to 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 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 example 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.)
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited and printed to create exercise worksheets.

See Also

What is active voice? What is passive voice? What is an active sentence? What voice should I use? What are verbs? What is the subject of a sentence? Glossary of grammatical terms