The Active and the Passive Voice

The Active and the Passive Voice:

Read the following sentences:-

  • Mohit writes a letter.
  • A letter is written by Mohit.

You see that both sentences express the same meaning. But in sentence 1, the form of the verb shows that the subject does something. When the form of a verb shows that the subject does something, it is the Active Voice.

In sentence 2, the form of the verb denotes that its subject is acted upon. When the form of the verb shows that its subject is acted upon, it is said to be in Passive Voice.

A sentence in the Active Voice can be changed into Passive Voice by making the following changes:-

  • The Object of the verb in the Active Voice is changed into the Subject in the Passive Voice.
  • The Subject in the Active Voice becomes the Object in the Passive Voice and it generally takes the Preposition ‘by‘ before it.
  • The verb in the Active Voice is changed into Past Participle in the Passive Voice and it takes the verb ‘to be‘ in one of its forms depending upon the tense of the Active Voice; as,
Active VoicePassive Voice
He posts the letter.The letter is posted by him.
He posted the letter.The letter was posted by him.
She will post the letter.The letter will be posted by her.
You are posting the letter.The letter is being posted by you.
They have written the letters.Letters have been written by them.
You will have posted the letter.The letter will have been posted by you.

If a Transitive Verb has two objects, Direct Object, and an Indirect Object, either of them can be used as the subject in the Passive Voice; as,

Active VoicePassive Voice
My uncle gave me a wristwatch.A wristwatch was given to me by my uncle. OR I was given a wristwatch by my uncle.
They are presenting me a gift.A gift is being presented to me by them. OR I am being presented a gift by them.

Note: Only a Transitive Verb can be changed into Passive Voice as it has an object of its own and an Intransitive Verb cannot be changed into Passive Voice as it has no object of its own. But when an Intransitive verb is connected with a Prepsoitin, it can be changed into Passive Voice; as,

Active VoicePassive Voice
Children laughed at the beggar. The beggar was laughed at by children.
He was running after me.I was being run after by him.
The judge has arrived at the decision.The decision has been arrived at by the Judge.
A car runs over a child.A child is run over by a car.

Remember: The Preposition following the verb retains its position even in Passive Voice as is clear from the above sentences.

Note: When a Factitive Verb is changed from Active Voice to Passive Voice, it is the Object and not the Objective Complement that becomes the subject in Passive Voice; as,

  • We elected him monitor. (Active)
  • He was elected monitor by us. (Passive)

In Imperative Sentences of order, command, request, or advice and where the subject ‘you‘ of the Second Person is understood, the verb ‘Let‘ is used in Passive Voice; as,

Active VoicePassive Voice
Shut the door.Let the door be shut.
Open your book at page 20.Let your book be opened at page 20.
Speak the truth.Let the truth be spoken.
Take rest.Let rest be taken.

Note 1: The Active Voice of the Interrogative Sentences beginning with the question word ‘who‘ replaces ‘who‘ by means of ‘by whom‘ in the Passive Voice, as,

Active VoicePassive Voice
Who is knocking at the door?By whom is the door being knocked at?
Who has done it?By whom has it been done?
Which boy has made a noise?By which boy has a noise been made?

Note 2: There are certain verbs which when turned into Passive Voice, take some other prepositions instead of ‘by’ before the objects; as,

Active VoicePassive Voice
I know him.He is known to me.
The box contains books.Books are contained in the box.
He pleased me.I was pleased with him.
My behavior annoyed him.He was annoyed at my behavior.
He disgusts me.I am disgusted with him.

Note 3: There are a few Quasi Passive Verbs that are Active in form but Passive in sense.

Active VoicePassive Voice
Sugar tastes sweet.Sugar is sweet when tasted.
It is time to take tea.It is time for tea to be taken.
Quinine tastes bitter.Quinine is bitter when tasted.
The novel reads well.The novel is well when read.

Note 4: A few verbs are changed into Passive Voice in the following way:

Active VoicePassive Voice
They say honesty is the best policy.It is said that honesty is the best policy.
People say pride goes before a fall.It is said that pride goes before a fall.

Study the following examples carefully:

Example 1:

Active VoicePassive Voice
Close the door.Let the door be closed.
Close the door, please.You are requested to close the door.
Can you do it?Can it be done by you?
Does he do it?Is it done by him?
We do not help him.He is not helped by us.
Who helps you in your studies?By whom are you helped in your studies?
Did he solve the question?Was the question solved by him?
Is he doing a sum?Is a sum being done by him?
Have you taken tea?Has tea been taken by you?
Will you help me?Will I be helped by you?

Example 2:

Active VoicePassive Voice
Speak the truth.Let the truth be spoken. or Truth should be spoken.
It is time to play game.It is time for the game to be played?
See the Headmaster.Let the Headmaster be seen. or You are ordered to see the Headmaster.
Be silent. You are ordered to be silent.
Respect your elders.Let your elders be respected.
One should do one’s duty.Duty should be done.
One should obey one’s elders.Elders should be obeyed.

Example 3:

Active VoicePassive Voice
The book contains many illustrations.Many illustrations are contained in the book.
Do you know him?Is he known to you?
He annoyed me.I was annoyed with him.
Your behavior pleases me.I am pleased at your behavior.
You disgusted her.She is disgusted with you.
I knew him beforehand.He was known to me beforehand.

Example 4:

Active VoicePassive Voice
Which boy has broken the window pane?By which boy has the window pane been broken?
Who knocks at the door?By whom is the door knocked at?
Who will knock at the door?By whom will the door be knocked at?
What are you doing there?What is being done by you there?
Which pen do you like?Which pen is liked by you?
Do you take milk every day?Is milk taken by you every day?
Did he keep his word?Was his word kept by him?
Have you seen your friend?Has your friend been seen by you?

Example 5:

Active VoicePassive Voice
Do not fall back on your word.Let not your word be fallen back on by you.
Help the poor.Let the poor be helped.
They say two and two make four.It is said two and two make four.
People say those who live in glass houses should not throw stones on others.It is said that stones should not be thrown on others by those who live in glass houses.
Who teaches you grammar?By whom grammar is taught to you?
Make bed, please.You are requested to make bed.
Cast off all fears.Let all fears be cast off.
Who does not love his country?By whom is not his country loved?
It is time to take rest.It is time for rest to be taken.
Hope sustains life.Life is sustained by hope.

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