• James stole my bike! (Active)
  • My bike was stolen by James! (Passive)

Use the passive voice when you focus on the object (the bike) more than the agent (James) of the active sentence.

Object is important, agent is not.

  • The police caught the three men who robbed the bank.

Who caught the three men?  The police.

Is that information important?  No – the police always catch criminals.  It is obvious information.

  • The waiter brought out our food late.

Is it the waiters fault that the food was brought ou

 

The passive voice deemphasizes the person or thing that does the action, focusing on the object (the thing or person affected by the action.  It uses the verb to be as an auxiliary.

Check out the following:

Frank Lloyd Wright built the Falling Water home between 1936 and 1939.

Home

Falling Water is a pretty well-known example of unique American architecture.  Most people know its creator, Frank Lloyd Wright by name.  The sentence makes sense because it names the architect and puts the emphasis on his agency in the design and construction of the home.

But, maybe you don’t know the name of the architect or construction company that built your home.  So, you’d probably use the passive voice, ignoring who actually did the building.  You’d likely say:

My house was built in 1950.

 

click on the link below for a conversation exercise that you can do with any English speaker:

Conversation Exercise – Passive Voice (ESL 2)

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