Voice Change in English – Active & Passive Voice, Definition, Examples, Rules

Let’s explore Voice Change!

Voice Change in English – Active & Passive Voice, Definition, Examples, Rules

Voice change is a very common grammatical practice in the English language. It uses the concept of tense and the placement of subject and object based on the action happening in the sentence.

  • Often many students tend to compare the concepts of voice change with that of the narration change.
  • But one stark difference between the two is that while in the indirect speech, the tense of the original statement tends to change, but in the case of voice change, the tense of the sentence will remain the same even after it is transformed from active voice to passive voice.

In this post, I will attempt to clear all the confusion that surrounds the use of active and passive voice. Starting from their definition, I will be listing all the rules necessary to know to perform this grammatical practice.

Plus, there will be a substantial amount of examples to refer to for your better understanding.

Let’s take a look at them.

Voice Change – Active and Passive Voice

First, we need to look at the definition of active and passive voice.

Voice in English grammar indicates a state where it shows that subject is acting or it is acted upon. Depending on these two situations, we have an active voice or passive voice.

Active Voice Definition

When in a sentence, the verb or the act is carried out by the subject, the verb will be considered in the active voice.

Passive Voice Definition

When in a sentence, the subject of the verb gets acted upon, we will say that the verb is in passive voice.

So, in active voice, the sentence will emphasize the subject that performs the action, and in passive voice, the sentence will emphasize the object.

Active and Passive Voice Examples

A classic example of this can be:

  • The hunter killed the lion. (Active Voice)
  • The lion was killed by the hunter. (Passive voice)

Now, much like anything else in English grammar, there are certain rules that we must imply to turn the sentences from active voice to passive voice and vice versa.

All of them will be based on the form of the verb, i.e., the tense of the verb.

Let’s look at them one by one.

Rules of Voice Change

The first and most prominent rule of voice change is that the place of subject and object in the sentence gets interchanged.

The object comes to the place of the subject and vice versa.

For example

  • I am writing a letter.
  • A letter is being written by me.

(Please note how the subject of the first sentence “I” has been shifted to the place of the object as “me”. In passive voice, pronouns change as well. We will look into that a bit later.)

Sometimes it is seen that the sentence has no subject when written in passive voice. This is perfectly possible if we see that the sentence can be well written without disrupting the meaning in the absence of the subject.

One such example can be:

For example

Many men were killed in the war.

(Please note that there is no subject in this sentence in passive voice since the sense is already implied.)

When writing in passive voice, the third form or the past participle form of the verb will be treated as the main verb. The first form of the verb can never be used, and the main verb will be followed by a “by” in a passive voice.

For example

  • I played a nice tune on the guitar.
  • A nice tune was played by me on the guitar.

(Please note that here the main verb was “Played” in active voice, and in the passive voice, the main verb is again “played”, but this is the past participle form of the verb.)

You need to remember that using “by” in the passive voice is not always constant. Sometimes given the context, it can be replaced by words like “with”, “to” as well.

For example

  • The students fill the playground.
  • The playground was filled with students.

(In this sentence contextually, instead of “by” we have used “with”)

The auxiliary verbs will be changed according to the tense in passive voice.

For example

  • I killed the lion.
  • The lion was killed by me.
  • They have done the work.
  • The work has been done by them.
  • He was playing football.
  • Football was being played by him.
  • He likes me.
  • am liked by him.

(Please note that in all the above-mentioned sentences, the auxiliary verbs are “be” verbs, and they are changed as per the tense of the sentence)

Changes Regarding Pronouns

As discussed earlier briefly, in the passive voice, most of the pronouns change as well. This is done to keep up with the context of the sentences.

Below I am listing all the pronouns and their counterparts that take place in passive voice.

  • ‘I’ will become “me” in a passive voice. “We” becomes “Us” in a passive voice.
  • “You” remains the same as “you” in a passive voice.
  • “He” becomes “him” in a passive voice.
  • “She” becomes “her” in a passive voice.
  • “It” remains the same as “it” in a passive voice.
  • “They” becomes “them” in a passive voice.

Now, as we all know, as per the tense, the verb forms change while transforming from active to passive voice. So, let’s look at the rules regarding the different tenses.

Rules for Simple Present Tense

When it comes to the simple present tense, the syntax in passive voice would be using the “be verbs” (am/is/are) as auxiliary verbs.

Let’s look at the syntax:

Active

Subject + verb first form + s/es + object.

Passive

Object + is/am/are + verb past participle + by + subject.

Active

Subject + Do/does + not + verb first form + Object.

Passive

Object + is/am/are + not + verb past participle + by Subject.

Active

Does + Subject + verb first form + Object+?

Passive

Is/am/are + Object + verb past participle + by subject +?

Example:

  • He watches a movie.
  • A movie is watched by him.
  • She does not like her.
  • She is not liked by her.

Check out worksheets for active and passive voice for practice.

Rules for Present Continuous Tense

For the present continuous tense, the auxiliary verbs (am/is/are) will be joined by “being” to indicate the present continuous tense. Let’s look at the syntaxes.

Active

Subject + is/am/are + verb first form + ing + object.

Passive

Object + is/am/are + being + verb past participle + by + subject.

Active

Subject + is/am/are + not + verb first form + ing + object.

Passive

Object + is/am/are + not + being + verb past participle + by Subject.

Active

Is/am/are + subject + verb first form + ing + object+?

Passive

Is/am/are + Object + being + verb past participle + by + subject +?

Example

  • They are cutting vegetables 
  • Vegetables are being cut by them.
  • Is he buying a new phone?
  • Is a new phone being bought by him?

Rules for Present Perfect Tense

For the present perfect tense, we will be using has/have as auxiliary verbs along with “Been” to indicate the perfect tense sense. The syntaxes will be:

Active

Subject + has/have + verb past participle + object.

Passive

Object + has/have + been + verb past participle + by + subject.

Active

Subject + has/have + not + verb past participle + object.

Passive

Object + has/have + not + been + verb past participle + by Subject.

Active

Has/have + subject + verb past participle + object+?

Passive

Has/Have + Object+ been + verb past participle + by subject +?

Example:

  • He has questioned his father.
  • His father has been questioned by him.
  • I have read his new novel.
  • His new novel has been read by me.

Rules for Simple Past Tense

For simples past tense, we need to use was/were as auxiliary verbs in the passive voice. Let’s look at the syntaxes.

Active

Subject + verb second form + object.

Passive

Object + was/were + verb past participle + by + subject.

Active

Subject + did + not + verb first form + object.

Passive

Object + was/were + not + verb past participle + by Subject.

Active

Did + subject + verb first form + object +?

Passive

Was/were + Object + verb past participle + by subject +?

Example

  • They brought the child home.
  • The child was brought home by them.
  • Did you kill the snake?
  • Was the snaked killed by you?

Rules for Past Continuous Tense

For past continuous tense, we need to use was/were as auxiliary verbs and “being” to indicate the continuous sense.

The syntaxes will be:

Active

Subject + was/were + verb first form + ing + object.

Passive

Object + was/were + being + verb past participle + by + subject.

Active

Subject + was/were + not + verb first form + ing + object.

Passive

Object + was/were + not + being + verb past participle + by Subject.

Active

Was/were + Subject + verb first form + ing + object +?

Passive

Was/were + Object + being + verb past participle + by + subject +?

Example:

  • They were building the house.
  • The house was being built by them.
  • She was cooking dinner.
  • Dinner was being cooked by her.

Rules for Past Perfect Tense

For the past perfect tense, we need to use “had” along “been” to indicate the perfect tense sense.

The syntaxes will be.

Active

Subject + had + verb past participle + object.

Passive

Object + had + been + verb past participle + by + subject.

Active

Subject + had + not + verb past participle + object.

Passive

Object + had + not + been + verb past participle + by Subject.

Active

Had + Subject + verb past participle + object +?

Passive

Had + Object + been + verb past participle + by + subject +?

Example:

  • Rachel had broken the flower vase.
  • The flower had been broken by Rachel.
  • Had you suggested that to him?
  • Had that been suggested to him by you?

Rules for Simple Future Tense

We will be using “Will / shall” along with “be” for simple future tense.

The syntax will look like.

Active

Subject + will + verb first form + object.

Passive

Object + will + be + verb past participle + by + subject.

Active

Subject + will + not + verb first form + object.

Passive

Object + will + not + be + verb past participle + by Subject.

Active

Will + Subject + verb first form + object +?

Passive

Will + Object + be + verb past participle + by + subject +?

Example:

  • John will do the dishes.
  • The dishes will be done by John.

Rules for Future Perfect Tense

Lastly, for future perfect tense, the syntax will be:

Active

Subject + will + have + verb past participle + object.

Passive

Object + will + have + been + verb past participle + by + subject.

Active

Subject + will + have + not + verb past participle + object.

Passive

Object + will + have + not + been + verb past participle + subject.

Active

Will + Subject + have + verb past participle + object +?

Passive

Will + object + have + been + verb past participle + by + subject +?

Example:

  • He will have won the lottery.
  • The lottery will have been won by him.

Please keep in mind that voice change cannot be done with the following tenses.

  • Present Perfect Continuous Tense
  • Past Perfect Continuous Tense
  • Future Perfect Continuous Tense
  • Future Continuous Tense

Conclusion

I hope, you now know all the rules required to change from active voice to passive voice. Some of them can be a bit difficult to understand and use. Hence, you should always practice and read a lot to learn English properly. Feel free to refer back to these rules, and I believe your confusion will be cleared quickly.

Feel free to leave your views and questions about voice change in the English language topic in the comment section below.

Further Study

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