There has been a collaboration effort to make a canonical post on passive voice, but it was never posted sadly (asked in 2015), so I would like to give it a try! I understand the amount of effort needed to put into this canonical post, so I ask for anyone's help in trying to make this canonical post successful. I would really appreciate any of the experienced english users on this site helping me out on this, as this passive-voice tag has over 1000 questions in total, and I think it might benefit users. I may not be the best english user, but I really want to help out on it!


I will post my attempt at this in an answer below, while making it a community wiki to welcome any edits to add on. I will also add a answer on what is required to be answered in the [real] answer.

And again, if you guys think this isn't a good idea, please let me know, I do not want to make something that doesn't help anyone! I am hesitant on trying to make this canonical post, seeing that it might receive bad feedback, which is why I really wish that the community could provide feedback :)


Main question

I have a sentence, and I need to change it into passive voice. What rules can I follow to reliably make this change? When is it a good idea to use passive voice, and when is it not?

This question was posted by @Wendikidd on this meta post.

Question order

What the question order might look like:

What is the passive voice?

Answer order

What the answer order might look like:

When do I use the passive voice?

Pros and cons of the passive voice?

List of passive voice questions

I am really unsure about the order as passive voice can get really complicated, so please comment or add on to it. Should I include active-passive voice too?

  • Why downvote? Is this post not a good idea?
    – DialFrost
    Jun 21, 2022 at 7:12
  • Use of the passive voice is an element of style. As such resists easy or clear rule-making.
    – Robusto
    Jul 4, 2022 at 13:13
  • Oh dear, but is making this post beneficial then? @Robusto
    – DialFrost
    Jul 5, 2022 at 0:18
  • I would say it is a more complicated issue than can be addressed in ELL.SE. It's probably to squishy (arguable, not clear-cut) even EL&U.SE.
    – Robusto
    Jul 5, 2022 at 1:46
  • So your saying its not a good idea @Robusto?
    – DialFrost
    Jul 5, 2022 at 1:48
  • 1
    Wendikidd asks three questions. The second question is a good one to guide this document, but the other two, maybe not. The first, "I need to change a sentence into passive voice. What rules can I follow to reliably make this change?" is 100% on topic for ELL, but I'm not sure whether it should be in a canonical post about the passive voice, as translating active sentences into passive isn't a function of English -- it's something students do in class. The third question, "Why am I often asked to make this change as a homework assignment?" is off-topic because it can only lead to opinions.
    – gotube Mod
    Jul 24, 2022 at 22:32
  • 1
    @DialFrost Ping away! Unfortunately, I'm not familiar enough with canonical posts to know if this is good enough. I've also got a crushing headache so I can't go through it to verify what content is here. Ping me again in a week or so and I'll have a look
    – gotube Mod
    Aug 6, 2022 at 14:38
  • 1
    @DialFrost I haven't read any of the canonical posts through. I started reading the "Perfect" one once and found it too wordy where it should have been concise, and framed too much like opinion where it should have confidently represented fact. So, in my opinion, if this canonical post is at the same level as the Perfect one, then it's not great. I may feel less sour about it when my head stops throbbing ;)
    – gotube Mod
    Aug 7, 2022 at 0:28
  • @gotube Sorry! I've been busy on other sites that I completely forgot about this post! I'll get to work on changing stuff based on your comments in chat :3 We have one problem which is the lack of people jumping in to help (Mari_Lou_A mentioned that there is still a bunch of stuff that needs mentioning)
    – DialFrost
    Nov 1, 2022 at 1:03

4 Answers 4


Writing a canonical post could be a shared team effort. It needn't be delegated to a single user.

One user could write an answer as to why many native speakers feel that the passive voice is more/less effective than its active counterpart.

Someone else could focus on correctly identifying a passive clause which would need to include a section about transitive and intransitive verbs; one answer could be a table of the most common forms of the passive; another on the "get" vs "be" passive. Passives with and without an agent, e.g. The law of gravity was discovered by Newton. And so on.

List of Passive questions on ELL with upvoted answers

  1. How to identify if a sentence is in the Passive or Active Voice?

  2. Is it a correct to use passive voice in the following sentence?

  3. According to Grammarly, this sentence is incorrect. But is it really?

  4. Passive voice (consider revising). Why?

  5. What is the passive of 'the teacher teaches us English'?

  6. Why in shops do they put “B sold here” instead of “B sells here”?

  7. "It is built" or "it was built"

  8. It's broken or it has been broken

  9. how can I change the imperative sentence into passive form?

  10. "is said to" causes ambiguity

  11. "is being" vs "has been" (Closed but it has attracted a staggering 250K views)

  12. How do I use "is being"? (62K) Maybe the former question can be closed as a duplicate of this one?

  13. Can the passive voice be used without a subject

List of questions about the passive with no upvoted answers

  1. 'Past Participle Verb Form' vs 'Past Participle Adjective'?

  2. Tense Usage in Personal Passive Voice Construction

  3. Agent of passives introduced by "as to"

  4. Is it correct to use "was" right after a "had?"

  5. No answer is/was given

  6. Turning a sentence into the passive voice

  7. can we say "being seen"?

  8. Difference between "what we call" and "what we called" (8k)

  • I'm not sure if there are any rules for canonical posts, but who posts the answer for this post? Do you post it or do I? Or it doesn't matter :P
    – DialFrost
    Aug 2, 2022 at 11:20
  • 1
    @DialFrost I think the idea should be shelved. Maybe sometime in the future, after the election, one or more unanswered questions could be featured on meta. If we can galvanise users to post detailed answers that would be a start. I would have suggested setting up bounties, but when I set them in the past it was clear neither low-rep or hi-rep users cared about Internet points.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 2, 2022 at 11:38
  • Shelved meaning it can be considered in the future?
    – DialFrost
    Aug 3, 2022 at 5:01
  • Some do care about internet points, but they either don't, or find it too much work to even bother answering
    – DialFrost
    Aug 9, 2022 at 2:12
  • 1
    @DialFrost Once 15K has been surpassed, the gamification spell wears off. Users with much lower rep are those who tend not to answer questions. Users who focus their energy on answering questions continue to do so because they want and enjoy helping learners the trouble is that their number is very small. We see the same 8-12 users, answering ELL questions and 3-5 users answering on an almost hourly basis.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 10, 2022 at 6:41
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA For my part, I'd be incentivized by a chunk of points, but most bountied questions only need a bounty to attract attention because they're such low quality questions to begin with that nobody wants to bother. No amount of points is worth wasting time on a bad question unless I'm allowed to rewrite the question as well.
    – gotube Mod
    Aug 24, 2022 at 19:56
  • "One user could write an answer ..." Unfortunately, I don't think anyone is willing to take the time to do so, or isn't well enough versed
    – DialFrost
    Sep 6, 2022 at 10:44

2. Pros and cons of the passive voice

The passive voice has been criticized by many people and is said to be confusing, so I would like to point out the main reasons why passive voice can be good and bad.

Cons of the passive voice

The main downsides of using the passive voice are:

  1. Creating distance between the reader and the narrative.
  2. Sentences becoming wordier and possibly clumsy
  3. Causing confusion, especially for readers who don’t speak English as their first language.
  4. Taking away the sense of urgency of the actions. In fact, it can make the writing seem bland and boring, as if it’s just repeating a series of facts.

This contrasts the "better" active voice, which has the following traits:

  1. Sentences are tighter, less wordy.
  2. It makes for clearer writing.
  3. It creates a sense of immediacy, so it improves the pacing of your writing.

Pros of the passive voice

However, the passive voice does have its pros as well:

1. Emphasising on the action

When using the passive voice, we switch the places of the agent and patient, so now the patient is at the start of the sentence. This emphasises more on the patient now, which undergoes the action:

The person was kidnapped.

So in this sentence, we are putting emphasis on the person. When using this sentence, we are indirectly telling the reader who kidnapped the person is irrelevant and what is important is the kidnapping of the person.

2. Anonymity/Vagueness


The water was polluted.

Here, we create a sense of anonymity - we don't know who polluted the water and how! Especially if we do not know who/what caused an action, you can simply use the passive voice to omit this and avoid mentioning it.

3. Objectivity

Because the passive voice creates a sense of emotional distance between the reader and the narrative, the reader can become more objective about he or she is reading. This is one of the main reasons why scientific reports are often written in the passive voice. E.g., if you say:

The water was polluted by a nearby mining operation.

You do not know how polluted it, and the statement remains factual and you could say this option is "safer". If you simply say:

X company polluted the water.

You are simply blaming the company and could be an "unsafe" option, unless of course you have no choice.

4. Authority

If the active voice sounds more conversational (which is usually the case), the passive voice sounds more formal. Readers tend to perceive this formality as more professional and more authoritative. It sounds like the author knows what he or she is talking about.



1. When to use and avoid the passive voice?

Why should I use the passive voice?

In some sentences, passive voice is the best option for standard writing. E.g.

  1. Person is unknown

The paintings in the cave were suggested to be made in the stone age. [You don't know who made it!]

  1. The person is irrelevant

The new experimental nuclear power plant will be built in Russia. [You don't care about who built it]

  1. Vagueness

Mistakes were made, but it won't happen again. [You don't know who made them!]

  1. Truth

Rules are made to be broken. [By whomever, whenever]

  1. Emphasis on subject

Insulin was first discovered in 1921 by researchers at the University of Toronto. [Focuses on "insulin"]

Why should I avoid the passive voice?

In some cases, like academic writing, it is best to avoid it.

Both Othello and Iago desire Desdemona. She is courted. [Who courts Desdemona? Othello? Iago? Both of them? - too vague]

Research has been done to discredit this theory. [Who did the research? You? Your professor? Another author? - confusion+vague]

Using passive voice can also lead to you having holes in any research etc.

The telephone was invented in the nineteenth century. [Who invented the telephone?]

Additional note, using the passive voice can make things unnecessarily hard for you, and can be wordy and indirect to anybody who is reading your sentences.


  • 4
    I recommend starting by defining what you mean by "passive voice", because not everyone agrees on what that means. Furthermore, be aware that some people acknowledge "passive" constructions but do not like to use the term "voice". This issue can get messy; good luck! Jun 20, 2022 at 3:44
  • 1
    "The house, seen from above, looks large." Some people might call "seen from above" a passive construction but not really the passive voice. Jun 20, 2022 at 4:15
  • 6
    Write what you know and think will be most helpful to a learner. There's a case for keeping a CP simple by covering just the basics. This is not Linguistics.SE, it's a site dedicated to learners.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 20, 2022 at 4:55
  • 2
    Terminology can vary greatly, which is why I recommend defining your terms early in the process. Some people would say that "passive voice" requires "to be" (or sometimes "to get") before the past participle. Jun 20, 2022 at 16:09
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA. I entirely agree. For the purposes of this site I think it is enough to show how to form the passive in the various 'tenses', and to explain when it is to be preferred to the active or vice versa. That long list of potential topics in the other answer here could form the basis for a good canonical post on ELU.
    – Shoe
    Jun 21, 2022 at 14:36
  • 1
    @DialFrost. The long list of topics suggested by Araucaria and listed in another answer under the heading Syntax is more suited for inclusion in a canonical post on ELU, not here on ELL.
    – Shoe
    Jun 22, 2022 at 7:10

Question: What is the Passive Voice?

This is a Canonical Post, intended as a reference and resource for both Questioners and Answerers.

The passive voice is a really large topic, and many do not actually understand the correct syntax and how to use it etc.

There have been over a thousand question on passive voice questions, and I would first like to define the terminology of a passive voice here before moving on.

In a passive voice, the subject does not do the action

In an active voice, the subject does the action

To put that in perspective:

John threw the ball - Active

John - [subject]
threw the ball - [action]

The ball was thrown by John - Passive

The ball - [subject]
was thrown by John - [action]

To make it clear, the subject "the ball" receives the action of throwing the ball. Obviously the ball can't throw itself! To add on, I will use the "patient and agent" terminology to describe this:

In a clause with the passive voice, the subject express the patient of the main verb (basically the thing that goes through the action) - patient undergoes surgery - subject undergoes action.

Whereas in the active voice, the subject now becomes an agent of the main verb - agent tracks down people - subject does the action.

To make it clear, passive voice sentence constructions have two things mainly:

  1. Conjugated form of "to be"/form of auxiliary verb
  • e.g. is, was, be, am, been, were, being, are
  1. past participle of verb
  • threw -> thrown
  • stole -> stolen

Since this topics can be large, I will separate it into different answers:

  • 1. When to use and avoid the passive voice?
  • 2. Uses of the passive voice?
  • 3. Questions on passive voice

Links will be added only when posted on ELL

  • 2
    I think it is important to introduce the agent/patient terminology for John and ball respectively.
    – Shoe
    Jun 21, 2022 at 14:43
  • 1
    Consider reading Fear and Loathing of the English Passive by Geoffrey K. Pullum. Section 2.1 discusses the problem of using terms like "receive" when describing the passive voice. Jun 21, 2022 at 19:27
  • 1
    A passive clause is one where the subject does not do the verb. It doesn't necessarily "receive" or have any particular connection to the action. Consider the sentences, "The ball was thrown to Mary" and "Mary was thrown the ball". There are two different types of noun phrase as the subject in these passive clauses. Whatever relationship they have to the action of "throw", it cannot be the same relationship for both. I've edited the definition of passive voice above to reflect this.
    – gotube Mod
    Jul 20, 2022 at 3:21
  • 1
    I haven't done a survey of other Wikis in the SE environment, but I'm guessing it's best to write them in a more encyclopedic way, and not to use any first person pronouns.
    – gotube Mod
    Jul 20, 2022 at 3:24

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