Grammar Season

Passive voice Episode

„For every shadow, no matter how deep, is threatened by morning light.” – The Fountain


The fountain is directed by Darren Aronofsky who tells three stories about men in pursuit of eternity with their love. The three story lines are told nonlinearly, each separated by five centuries.
The Scientist:
As a modern-day scientist Tom Creo is obsessed by a medical research project’s unlikely side-benefit, the last hope to save his dying wife, Izzi. When the tests fail on a monkey named Donovan, Tommy is inspired to break medical protocol and use an untested compound derived from a Guatemalan tree.
One day Izzi goes into cardiac arrest, and Tommy is forced to leave the room. Tommy’s associate finds him in the hall and tells him that Donovan’s tumor is shrinking. Tommy rushes back into Izzi’s room with the news, only to find that his wife cannot be resuscitated.
The Conquistador:
Tomás Verde is given the mission of finding the Tree of Life. The tree’s location is revealed on a hidden map displayed by a Mayan dagger stolen by Father Avila, whose Franciscan order backs the Queen. Tomas’s last two men are killed fleeing the battle. Tomas is spared by the warriors, who force him to climb the pyramid. When Tomas reaches the temple at the top, he is stabbed in the abdomen by a Mayan priest.
The Astronaut:
The astronaut, Tom, travels toward a golden nebula in an ecospheric spacecraft, which also houses a living tree. Tom is haunted by visions of Izzi. He focuses on reaching the nebula, repeatedly assuring the tree that it will be reborn on arrival despite the amount of sap he has taken from it. Despite his assurance, the tree dies, leaving Tom to ponder the hundreds of years of travel that have been all to see Izzi again. Izzi haunts Tom in a vision and encourages him to finish writing her book, The Fountain. Tom faces his fear of death and accepts dying, allowing him to finally write the book’s ending…




Passive voice



First, let’s calrify the active voice:

A verb is in the active voice when the agent of the verb (the person or thing that performs the action specified by the verb) is also the subject of the sentence. The active voice is the most common type of voice in both spoken and written English, and is generally considered to be the default voice.
Typically, the active voice is preferable to the passive voice, as it requires fewer words and expresses a clearer relationship between the verb and its agent.


The passive voice:

A sentence uses the passive voice when the subject is acted upon by the verb. The object of the verb’s action becomes the subject of the sentence, while the agent of the action (if there is one) is identified by the preposition by.

  • “A famous piano piece will be performed by Angie tomorrow night.”
  • “His new book has already been read by thousands of people.”
  • “The light bulb was patented in 1880.” (no agent)


Let’s look at this sentence:

  • I drink five glasses of water every day.

This is an active sentence and it has the subject first (the person or thing that does the verb), followed by the verb, and finally the object (the person or thing that the action happens to).

So, in this example, the subject is ‘I’, the verb is ‘drink’ and the object is ’five glasses of water ‘.

But, we don’t always need to make sentences this way. We might want to put the object first, or perhaps we don’t want to say who did something.  

In this case, we can use a passive, which puts the object first:

  • Five glasses of water are drunk every day. (We can add ‘by me’ if we want, but it isn’t necessary.)


We make the passive by putting the verb ‘to be’ into whatever tense we need and then adding the past participle. For regular verbs, we make the past participle by adding ‘ed’ to the infinitive. So ‘play’ becomes ‘played’.




Active Passive
present simple Visions of Izzy haunt Tom. Tom is haunted (by visions of Izzy).
present continuous Visions of Izzy are haunting Tom. Tom is being haunted (by visions of Izzy).
past simple Visions of Izzy haunted Tom. Tom was haunted (by visions of Izzy).
past continuous Visions of Izzy were haunting Tom. Tom was being haunted (by visions of Izzy).
present perfect Visions of Izzy have haunted Tom. Tom has been haunted (by visions of Izzy).
present perfect continuous Visions of Izzy have been haunting Tom. Tom has been being haunted (by visions of Izzy).
past perfect Visions of Izzy had haunted Tom. Tom had been haunted (by visions of Izzy).
future simple Visions of Izzy will haunt Tom. Tom will be haunted (by visions of Izzy).
future perfect Visions of Izzy will have haunted Tom. Tom will have been haunted (by visions of Izzy).


Verbs with two objects

Some verbs that have two objects can make two different active sentences, and so two different passive sentences too. For example, the verb ‘give’ is like this:

Active: Izzy gave the book to Tom. / Izzy gave Tom the book.

You can choose either of the two objects to be the subject of the passive sentence.

Passive: The book was given to Tom (by Izzy). / Tom was given the book (by Izzy)


Other verbs like this are: ask, offer, teach, tell, lend, promise, sell, throw.

You can also make the passive using a passive gerund or a passive infinitive in the same place as a normal gerund or infinitive (See: verb patterns episode).
- The child loves being cuddled.
- She would like to be promoted.




The passive voice is less commonly used than the active voice because it is wordy and oftenlacks clarity; however, there are several cases in which using the passive voice may be necessary or preferable.

The following sections contain various circumstances in which you might wish to use the passive voice instead of the active voice.


1. When the receiver of the action is important / When we want to change the focus of the sentence.
The passive voice may be used to emphasize the importance of the receiver of the action. (In contrast, the active voice typically emphasizes the importance of the agent.):

  • The fountain is directed by Darren Aronofsky.
    (We are more interested in the movie than the director in this sentence.)
  • Darren Aronofsky directed The fountain.
    (We are more interested in the director than the movie.)
When the pronouns I/ she/ he etc.. are converted into an object, they become me/her/him etc...


2. When who or what causes the action is unknown or unimportant or obvious or ‘people in general’.

Occasionally, the agent of an action may be unknown or irrelevant to the rest of a sentence, or it may already be heavily implied through the action or receiver of the action. In these cases, the agent may be eliminated altogether (which can only be done with the passive voice—not the active voice).

  • He was arrested (obvious agent, the police).
  • My bike has been stolen (unknown agent).
  • A popular play is being performed at the local theater. (unimportant agent).
  • The form can be obtained from the post office (people in general).


3. In factual or scientific writing:

Various forms of writing, including scientific reports and instruction manuals, use the passive voice to express a professional, neutral, or objective tone.

  • The chemical is placed in a test tube and the data entered into the computer.


4. In formal writing instead of using someone/ people/ they (these can be used in speaking or informal writing):

  • The brochure will be finished next month.


5. In order to put the new information at the end of the sentence to improve style:

  • Three books are used regularly in the class. The books were written by Dr. Bell.
    (‘Dr. Bell wrote the books’ sound clumsy.)


6. When the subject is very long:

  • I was surprised by how well the students did in the test.
    (More natural than: ‘how well the students did in the test surprised me’)


7. When softening an authoritative tone:

Because the passive voice places less emphasis on the responsibility of the agent and more emphasis on the receiver of the action, we can use the passive voice to express commands in a softer, less authoritative tone than those expressed through the active voice.

  • “Inexperienced mountaineers should not attempt ”
    (active voice – emphasizes inexperienced mountaineers’ responsibility to avoid the mountain.)
  • “K2 should not be attempted by inexperienced mountaineers.”
    (passive voice—emphasizes the difficulty or danger of the mountain.)



Converting the passive voice into the active voice


You may only convert a sentence from the passive voice into the active voice if there is an identifiable agent of the verb. In the active voice, this agent becomes the subject. For example:

  • He is stabbed in the abdomen by a Mayan priest. (passive voice)
  • A Mayan priest stabs him in the abdomen. (active voice)


If a passive-voice sentences does not contain an agent, it cannot be converted into the active voice, as the sentence will lack coherency without a subject. For example:

  • Tomás Verde is given the mission of finding the Tree of Life.
    (passive voice)
  • Give(s) the mission of finding the Tree of life to Tomás Verde.
    (Who gives the mission?)




In pursuit of eternity:
Chasing afterlife, the time without beginning or end.

Not probable or likely to happen.

A chemical that combines two or more elements.

Derived from:
To come from something.

Cardiac arrest:
A condition in which the heart stops beating.

To shrink:
Becoming smaller or less.

A short, pointed knife that is sharp on both sides, used especially in the past as a weapon.

The lower part of a person’s body, containing the stomach and bowels.

A cloud of gas or dust in space, appearing either bright or dark.

To tell someone confidently that something is true, especially so that they do not worry.

Despite (preposition):
Without taking any notice of or being influenced by; not prevented by.

The watery fluid that circulates through a plant, carrying food and other substances to the various tissues.

To think carefully about something, especially for a noticeable length of time.

To recur or visit often, especially as a ghost.

To make someone more likely to do something, or to make something more likely to happen.