Learn English Grammar: What’s the difference between ACTIVE & PASSIVE?


Hello, I'm Gill at www.engvid.com , and today's lesson is on the active voice and the passive

voice, and this is in response to a request that someone left on the YouTube comments

to explain the difference and why do we use active or passive, okay?

So, here is an explanation.

So, normally, it's best to use the active voice.

It's easier, and it tells you more.

It tells you who did the action, if you use the active.

If you start using the passive, it can become a little bit complicated how to put the words

together, so the active voice is "The boy kicked the ball.".

So, "kicked" is the verb, "the boy" is the subject, because he did the action, he did

the kicking, and the ball receives the action, so the ball is the object, so we've got subject,

verb, object.

A simple, active sentence, okay?

So, you know who did the action and you know also something that received the action.

So, if you turn that into the passive, it sounds a little bit strange.

You wouldn't, normally.

Well, there might be a reason, but I'll give you that in a minute.

So, if you change it to passive, you make the object the subject of the sentence.

You start with the ball as the subject.

It's all about the ball now, what happened to the ball?

"The ball was kicked."

The ball was kicked, and you could add, you can add "by the boy", the boy did the kicking,

"The ball was kicked by the boy.", or you can just say "The ball was kicked."

One reason why you might say it that way is if a ball is kicked by somebody and it breaks

a window and you don't know who kicked it, then that's all you can say.

You could say "Somebody kicked the ball.", so "somebody" would become the subject, but

you could also turn it into the passive and say "The ball was kicked and it broke the

window, it hit the window and broke it.", so that's sometimes a reason for using passive,

because you don't know, sometimes we don't know who did the action, so you can't say

who did it, so you may have to use passive because of that.

Or, maybe you - perhaps you do know who did it, but you don't want to say.

Again, you don't want to get somebody into trouble.

It could be something like that.

You don't want to say who did it, or sometimes it's just not important for that piece of

information, it may not be important who did it, okay?

So, the main thing is that the - with the active voice, the agent of the verb, the person

who does the action, here is "the boy", and the recipient, so the agent is the subject

and the recipient of the action is the object in the active sentence, okay?

But then, that changes in the passive.

So, let's just look at some more - that's a strange example, really, but let's look

at some quite normal examples of how the passive is often used, okay?

So, if you order something on the internet, you might get a confirmation to say "We've

received your order, we've received your payment, we are going to deliver your order, we are

sending it.", but they might put it this way: Your order will be sent by standard delivery,

for example.

They could say "We will send your order", but very often, they use this passive form,

"Your order will be sent", that's just the sort of style that is often used when you're

ordering things that way.

So, that's passive.

These are all passive examples.

Your order will be sent, okay?

Another one, if you're looking at a house and it might be old or, this isn't very old,

but it could be much older, but you're not particularly interested in who the builder

was at the time, but you want to know - you're interested to know how old is the house, when

was it built, so: This house was built in 1960.

So, it would be very unusual to know, going back so far in time, the name of the - well,

it wouldn't just be one builder, it would be lots of builders, so maybe a company name

or something like that, a building firm - but it would be unusual to know so far back in

the past, what company of builders built the house and also, that's not your main concern.

This is where it's not so important, you just want to know when the house was built and

how old it is, so "This house was built in 1960", and that gives you the information

you want to know.

Okay, right.

So, then another example, somebody has lost his car.

You say: His car has been stolen.

He left it parked in the street and, overnight, it has disappeared.

It looks as if it has been stolen, so in this kind of, you know, a crime has been committed,

probably, somebody has taken his car, but some - it's very unlikely that you would know

who did it.

The main issue here is that his car has been stolen and he needs to do something about


He needs to report it to the police, to his insurance company, etc.

So, of course, it is important in one way to know who did that, you would like to know

to be able to punish the person who did it, but in the immediate, you know, moment of

finding the car has gone, the main thing is to know that the car has been stolen.

That's the main important point.


So, you don't - you can't say who stole it, because you don't know, okay.


So, then, with the book, if you have a book that you're reading, "The book was published

last year.", okay?

So, you might want to say the name of the publisher, but normally, you might want to

know how old is this book, so that's the main point you want to get across or to know, oh,

it was published last year.

It's a very recent book, it's a new novel or something like that.

So, it was published last year.

So, it's quite a recent book.

That's the main thing.

You're not too bothered about who the publisher was.

You might be interested to know who the author is, but that name will be on the cover, so

that's fine.

But, just to say that it was published very recently, "was published" is passive, okay?

Somebody published it, but you're not saying who.


And then, another very familiar set of wording: In the exam, you will be tested on... okay,

on spelling and grammar, whatever it is, on your fluency in English, anything like that.

They could say "We will test you on", if, in the exam, "We will test you on", that would

be the active form, but here, quite often, with exam information, it's put in the passive

to be less sort of personal, a little bit more distant.

There's a kind of distance, really, with the passive voice.

So, "In the exam, you will be tested on ..." is passive.

And then, finally, in this half of the lesson, somebody is going to a party and they ask

you "Are you going to Jack's party?", and, oh, you say, party?

Oh, ah, "I haven't been invited to the party".

You're not sort of saying "Oh Jack, Jack, he hasn't invited me!


So, you feel a bit, you know, you don't really want to say, because you don't want to sound

as if you're angry with Jack for not inviting you, but "haven't been invited", you're sort

of keeping a distance from the situation and saying "Well, no, I'm not going, actually,

because I haven't been invited, so, you know, I have other things to do anyway, so that's

alright.", and you sort of tactfully reply.

So, to use the passive there is a sort of tactful - if you're trying to be tactful,

diplomatic - then you might you use the passive, again, because you don't want to say, you

don't want to give a name of who.

Who was it, who didn't invite you, sometimes it's somebody who doesn't do something, just

as much as someone who does do something.

So, it works both ways.

Okay, so I hope that that gives you some useful examples of how the active and the passive

are different, and we'll just move onto the second part of the lesson now, where I have

a little test for you.

Okay, so let's do a little test, and here I've written some sentences which are active

sentences and I'd like you to try to put them into the passive, okay?

So, let's just run through them first: Someone asked me to repair the window.

That's the broken window that the ball hit.

The chef told us to clean the kitchen before starting to cook.


"The chef" is the subject.

Jack didn't invite me to his party.

The artist created this sculpture in 1950.

The marketing firm paid me to hand out leaflets in the street.

I'll explain some of the vocabulary as well as we go through, don't worry if there's a

word you don't know.

So, the milliner, that's someone who makes hats, made this hat last year, and Someone

asked me to explain active and passive verbs.

Okay, so those are all active sentences.

Let's now change them to passive.

So, first of all, "Someone asked me to repair", or fix, "the window.", the broken window.

So, how do you turn that into passive?

So, I'm the object here, someone asked me, so we have to change "me" to the subject.

So, "me" in the subject is "I", okay?

So, we have to take away "someone" and say "I" and then it's past tense, so "I was asked",

take out "me", and there we have it.

This is now the passive: I was asked, without saying who did the asking, I was asked to

repair the window.

So, now that's passive.


So, then, the chef, the guy, usually a man, in charge of a big kitchen, a restaurant kitchen

or a big industrial kitchen, "The chef told us to clean the kitchen before starting to


So, "The chef told us", here, we are the object, but we need to change "us" to the subject,

so just like "me" to "I", it goes "us" to "we", okay?

So, "We", and its past tense again, so we need "We were told - We were told to clean

the kitchen before starting to cook.", okay?

That's now passive.

Next one, here's Jack again with his party.

Jack didn't invite me to his party.

So, how do you say that without mentioning Jack's name?

So, "me" is the object again, we have to turn "me" into the subject, just like here.

So, "I was", and if we follow the abbreviated form here, "I wasn't", "I wasn't invited to

-" oh, then we can mention Jack, if you like, "to the party", or "to Jack's party".

You can choose whether to mention Jack or not.

So, "I wasn't invited to Jack's party.", or "to the party", that is now passive, okay?


Then, "The artist", subject, "created this sculpture", a sort of stone or metal sculpture

in an art gallery, three-dimensional piece work of art, "in 1950".

So, this sculpture is the object here, we need to turn it into the subject.

So, we need to begin the sentence "This sculpture", take out "the artist", "This sculpture was

created in 1950."

This sculpture was created in 1950, and now that's passive, okay?

And the sculpture is the subject rather than the artist.

Next one: The marketing firm paid me to hand out leaflets - advertising pieces of paper

with adverts on - in the street.

So, a publicity company, marketing, an advertising company, paid me some money to hand out leaflets

to people in the street, okay?

So, "me", I'm the object here, and again, like this up here, we need to make "me" the

subject, so "I", take out "the marketing firm", "I", and again, "was", "I was paid - I was

paid to hand out leaflets in the street."

And now that's passive, okay.


Next one: The milliner, the hat maker, The milliner made this hat last year.

So, "the milliner" is the subject, the hat is the object.

We need to turn the hat into the subject, so again, we start with this, "This hat was

made last year.", and you don't say who made it because the hat is now the subject: The

hat was made last year.

That's now passive, okay?

And finally: Someone on YouTube asked me to explain active and passive verbs.

And that's what I've done, so they asked me, so again, "me" is the object, but we're going

to turn "me" into the subject, so "I was asked to explain active and passive verbs."

So, I hope I've done it in a way that is nice and simple to understand and easy to follow

how to change from one to the other.

Okay, so, just to mention also, there's a very good lesson by Emma on the way politicians

use passive forms of verbs and the way politicians do that to avoid responsibility for something

bad that happened, so do look out for Emma's lesson on that.

So, if you'd like to go the website www.engvid.com , there's a quiz on this subject, so please

give that a try, see how you do, and thank you for watching and see you again next time.

Bye for now.