Tema 37- La voz pasiva. Formas y usos

Tema 37- La voz pasiva. Formas y usos

Active and passive voice:

The distinction between active and passive voice applies only to sentences where the verb is transitive. The difference between the active and the passive voice involves both the verb phrase and the clause as a whole.

At the clause level, changing from active to passive has the following results:

1. The active subject, if retained, becomes the passive agent

2. The active object becomes the passive subject

3. The preposition by is inserted before the agent

– The butler murdered the detective. (active)

-.The detective was murdered by the butler. (passive)


The passive of an active tense is formed by putting the verb “to be” into the same tense as the active verb and adding the past participle of the active verb.

The agent is very often not mentioned. When it is mentioned, it is preceded by by and placed at the end of the clause.

The passive of continuous tenses requires the continuous forms of to be, which are not otherwise much used

– They are repairing the bridge

– The bridge is being repaired

Auxiliary + infinitive combinations are made passive by using a passive infinitive

– You must shut the door.

– The door must be shut.

Other infinitive combinations:

1. Verbs of liking, loving, wanting and wishing + object + infinitive form their passive with the passive infinitive

– He wants someone to take photographs.

– He wants photographs to be taken

2. Verbs of command, request, advice, invitation + object + infinitive form their passive by using the passive form of the main verb

– He invited me to go.

– I was invited to go

3. But with advise, beg, order, recommend, urge + indirect object + infinitive + object we can form the passive in 2 ways: by making the main verb passive or by the verb + that….should + passive infinitive.

– He urged the Council to reduce the rates

– The Council was urged to reduce the rates

– He urged that the rates should be reduced

Gerund combinations:

1. Advise, insist, propose, recommend, suggest + gerund + object are usually expressed in the passive by that….. should + the passive infinitive

– He recommended using the belt

– He recommended that the belt should be used

2. it/ they + need + gerund can also be expressed by it/ they + need + passive infinitive. Both forms are passive in meaning

– The grass needs cutting

– The grass needs to be cut

3. Other gerund combinations are expressed in the passive by the passive gerund

– I remember them taking me to the cinema

– I remember being taken to the cinema

In colloquial speech get is sometime used instead of be. It conveys that the subject has some responsibility for the action.

– The eggs got broken.

A sentence containing a direct and indirect object can have 2 passive forms:

– Someone gave her a bulldog

– She was given a bulldog

– A bulldog was given to her.

The first one is much more usual, that is, the indirect object usually becomes the subject of the passive verb.

Uses of the passive:

In sentences where there is a choice between active and passive, the active is the norm. When speakers or writers use the passive, they can apply more than one reason among the following ones:

1. When it is not necessary to mention the doer of the action as it is obvious who he is/ was /will be.

– The streets are swept everyday.

2. When we don´t know or don´t know exactly or have forgotten who did the action.

– The minister was murdered

3. When the subject of the active verb would be “people”

– He is suspected of receiving stolen goods.

4. When the subject of the active sentence would be the indefinite one.

– One sees this sort of advertisement everywhere.

– This sort of advertisement is seen everywhere

5. When we are more interested in the action than the person who does it

– The house next door has been bought

6. To avoid an awkward or ungrammatical sentence. This is done by avoiding a change of subject

– When he arrived home a detective arrested him

Would be better expressed

– When he arrived home he was arrested

7. The passive is sometimes preferred for psychological reasons. A speaker may use it to disclaim responsibility for disagreeable announcements

– (Employer): Overtime rates will have to be reduced

8. For the have + object + past participle constructions.

– I had the car repaired

Prepositions with passive verbs:

1. The agent, when mentioned, is preceded by by.

2. We use the preposition with when dealing with materials:

– Smoke filled the room

– The room was filled with smoke

3. When a verb + preposition + object combination is put into the passive, the preposition will remain immediately after the verb

– We must write to him

– He must be written to

Infinitive constructions after passive verbs:

1. After acknowledge, assume, believe, claim, consider, estimate, feel, find, know, presume, report, say, think, understand we have 2 passive forms

– People consider that he is a fool

– It is considered that he is a fool

– He is considered to be a fool

The infinitive construction is the most used.

When the thought concerns a previous action, we use the perfect infinitive

– He is known to have been a fool

2. After suppose we have 2 alternatives:

a) It can be followed by the present infinitive of any verb but this construction conveys an idea of duty.

– You are supposed to know how to drive

b) It can be followed by the perfect infinitive of any verb

– He is supposed to have escaped disguised as a woman.

3. Infinitives placed after passive verbs are normally full infinitives

– He made us work

– We were made to work

Let, however, is used without to

– They let us go

– We were let go

4. The continuous infinitive can be used after the passive of believe, know, report, say, suppose think, understand

– He is believed to be living abroad

The perfect form of the continuous infinitive is also possible

– He is believed to have been waiting for her

The change to passive is highly restricted if the active object is a clause. It becomes acceptable when the clause is extraposed and replaced by anticipatory it.

– They thought that she was attractive

– It was thought that she was attractive

Some stative transitive verbs called middle verbs normally occur only in the active: have, fit, suit, contain, hold, comprise, resemble

– They have a large house

– * A large house is had by them

A sentence such as “Her arm was broken” is ambiguous between a dynamic passive sense (someone broke her arm) and a statal passive sense (her arm was in a state of fracture)


Sentence members have both verbal and adjectival properties

a) They are verb-like in having active analogues

– We are encouraged to go on with the project

– The results encourage us to go on with the project

– Leonard was interested in Linguistics

– Linguistics interested Leonard

b) Their adjectival properties include the possibility of:

1) Coordinating the participle with an adjective

2) Modifying the participle with quite, rather, more etc.

3) Replacing be by a lexical copular verb such as feel or seem

– We feel rather encouraged and content

– Leonard seemed very interested in and keen on Linguistics

They are stative rather than dynamic. All participal adjectives have a stative meaning, where as their corresponding verbs usually do not.

In such adjectival uses of the past participle, it is rare to have a by-phrase expressing the agent

– I feel rather let down by his indifference.

Even ed-adjectives which have no corresponding active infinitive or finite verb forms may occasionally have agent by-phrases.

– We were unimpressed by his attempts

– His attempts unimpressed us

– His attempts did not impress us


They have neither an active transform nor a possibility of agent addition. It is only their superficial form of verb + -ed participle that recommends them for consideration as passives.

– The building is already demolished

– The modern world is getting more highly industrialized and mechanized