Passive and active voice

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By Christine Jenkins

Being able to use passive verbs effectively is now included in the National Curriculum Programme of Study for Years 5 and 6: …using passive verbs to affect the presentation of information in a sentence. So what does this mean and how can we teach it, without it becoming a dull grammar exercise?


What are active and passive verbs?

In order to understand what passive verbs are, it is first necessary to understand what active verbs are. Active sentences are found more commonly than passive ones.

In an active sentence, the subject of the sentence does the verb to the object.

Kasim (subject) held (verb) the trophy (object).

In a passive sentence, what was the object is moved to the front of the sentence and has the verb done to it (strictly speaking, it is now the subject). The person who did the action can be added, using ‘by’, although the ‘by’ can be omitted.

The trophy (subject) was held (passive verb form) by Kasim.


When are passive verbs useful?

  • To put the emphasis on the thing itself rather than who did it. (The window was broken, puts the emphasis on what happened to the window rather than who broke it).
  • For writing about things in an objective way. For example, in reports where an unbiased view is required. (The bronze medal was won by Germany, the silver was won by China and the gold was won by Great Britain.)
  • To write about things where the person who did something (the subject of the verb) is either not known or not important. (All the food was eaten).
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Reviews

  1. keebs
    on 4 March 2016

    Active/passive voice

    Some great ideas here for explaining not only the difference but how to use it and work in pairs to check I will use this on supply.

    4out of 5

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