Sergey Sulimov


Sergey Sulimov


Passive Voice: rules and examples


It is not always known who is doing the action, and sometimes it doesn’t need to be stated at all. It is in these cases that the Passive Voice is used. In this article, we’ll look at when and how to use it.

How the passive voice is formed in English

The voice form, active or passive, determines whether the subject is the action object or whether it produces the action itself. If it is active, the subject performs the action. In the Passive Voice, the subject is experiencing the action.

I water the flowers every day. — Я поливаю цветы каждый день (активный залог, «Я» выполняет действие).

Flowers are watered every day. — Цветы поливаются каждый день (passive voice, «цветы» — the subject and the action is performed on them, the producer of the action is unknown, what is important is that the flowers are watered).

To form the Passive Voice in English, you have to use a formula:

to be в нужном времени, числе и лице + Participle II смыслового глагола (V3/V-ed).

My bag has been stolen. — Мою сумку украли.

To put the passive voice in the negative form, add the particle not after the auxiliary verb. If the auxiliary verb several parts consists, put the not after the first.

My bag has not been stolen. — Мою сумку не украли.

When composing a Passive Voice question sentence, the auxiliary verb (or its first part) should be placed at the sentence beginning, before the subject.

Has your wallet been stolen? — Вашу сумку украли?

Passive Voice tenses

For reference ease, we have combined all the ways in which the Passive Voice is formed in the different tenses into one table. Remember: in the Perfect Continuous and Future Continuous groups, the passive voice is not used.

TimeRules for useThe formation formulaUsage example
Present SimpleAction happens regularlyis/am/are + V3The vase is broken. — Ваза разбита.
Past SimpleThe action took place in the pastwas/were + V3The vase was broken yesterday. — Вазу разбили вчера.
Future SimpleAction happens in the futurewill be + V3The vase will be broken tomorrow. — Ваза будет разбита завтра.
Present ContinuousThe action is now happeningam/is/are + being + V3The letter is being written right now. — Письмо пишут прямо сейчас.
Past ContinuousAction happened at some point in the pastwas/were + being + V3The letter was being written when I entered the room. — Письмо писали, когда я вошел в комнату.
Present PerfectAction occurred recently, result is importanthas/have + been + V3The vase has been broken this morning. — Вазу разбили сегодня утром.
Past PerfectAction took place before specific point in the past or before another actionhad + been + V3The vase had been broken before I came home. — Вазу разбили до того, как я пришел домой.
Future PerfectAction will end at some point in the futurewill + have + been + V3The letter will have been written tomorrow by 5 o’clock. — Письмо будет написано завтра к 5 часам.

How to translate sentences in Passive Voice

A verb in the passive voice can be translated in several ways:

  • The verb is the verb a combination to be and the participle short form (not used in the present tense in Russian);

The flowers have been watered today. — Цветы были политы сегодня.

  • with a verb ending in -s/-;

Letters are sent every day. — Письма отправляются каждый день.

  • with a 3rd person verb in the active voice as an indefinite-personal sentence part.

The table was repaired yesterday. — Стол починили вчера.

A passive voice sentence may contain a complement with the preposition by or with. In Russian, it is translated as the adjective in the instrumental case without the preposition. The word “by” is used to describe the person who is acting and “with” is used to describe the action instrument.

The letter was sent by an unknown person. — Письмо было отправлено неизвестным (возможен вариант перевода «Письмо отправил неизвестный»).  

The table was repaired with my tools. — Стол починили моими инструментами.

The Passive Voice cases usage

The active voice is more common in English, but there are cases where the passive voice is not only appropriate, but also the only correct option.

  • When it is the action itself or the object on which it is performed that matters first. And the one who performs the act is unimportant or unknown.

My favourite vase is broken. — Моя любимая ваза разбита (it doesn’t matter who did it, the vase is gone – it matters).

  • When you are talking about well-known facts, ideas or opinions.

Leonardo da Vinci is known all over the world. — Леонардо да Винчи известен по всему миру.

  • In news texts when describing activities, in headlines, advertisements.

15% discount will be given to the first five buyers. — Скидку 15 % получат первые пять покупателей.

  • When you describe a meal preparation.

The onion is finely chopped, fried and added to the meat. — Лук мелко нарезается, обжаривается и добавляется к мясу.

  • When you want to talk about some unpleasant event without identifying the perpetrator, or when you pass on information about a crime for which the perpetrator is unknown.

The bank was robbed yesterday. The police are looking for the crime author.  — Вчера ограбили банк. Полиция ищет виновника.

  • With some verbs, the Passive Voice can only be used in certain cases: a personal or impersonal passive construction. It expresses some well-established opinion or known fact. These are verbs such as to think (думать), to say (говорить), to believe (полагать), to feel (чувствовать), to expect (ожидать), to hope (надеяться).

It is said that she no longer meets John. — Говорят, что она больше не встречается с Джоном (impersonal construction).

He was expected to do well on the exam. — Ожидалось, что он хорошо сдаст экзамен (personal construction).

When someone performs an action us instead or for us.

In such a case, the following construction is used:

подлежащее + have + дополнение + V3

I had my hair cut yesterday. — Я вчера подстригла волосы (мне вчера подстригли волосы, я это сделала не сама, а в парикмахерской).

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