Using the Passive Voice

Most English is based on the SVO (subject-verb-object) active voice. Using the passive voice is a pleasant change and will be noticed in an essay.

What is the passive voice?

Active voice: I killed the chicken.
Passive voice: The chicken was killed by me.

The active voice = something does something
The passive voice = something has something done to it.

How is the passive voice made?

‘be + past participle¬† (past participle: done, gone, seen, taken, etc.)

‘Be’ changes depending on the tense you want.
The past participle never changes.

Twelve Tenses – what the passive voice looks like

(Note: ‘will’ can be swapped for ‘be going to’. See here for the difference.)


Present Simple: am/is/are + p.p. – Smoking is tolerated by many in the service industry, but the health effects can be devastating.

Past Simple: was/were + p.p. – Tobacco was introduced to the UK during Elizabethan times.

Future Simple: will be + p.p. – In the near future it is possible that all tobacco advertising will be banned.


Present Continuous: am/is/are being + p.p. – Some smokers argue that they are being denied a personal freedom.

Past Continuous: was/were being + p.p. – Many bartenders would say they were being poisoned by that freedom until the government intervened.

Future Continuous: will be being + p.p. – It is likely that ten years from now bars will be being visited, albeit they will be unrecognisable from those of our parents’ generation.


Present Perfect: have/has been + p.p. – Smoking has been banned in public establishments for several years now.

Past Perfect: had been + p.p. РIn America prohibition claimed to have made the country a more moral place, only to find that manufacturing had been moved to underground sources.  

Future Perfect: will have been + p.p. – It is possible that, when looked at again in a decade, tobacco consumption will have been forced to take the same route.

Perfect Continuous

Present Perfect Continuous: have/has been being + p.p. – For many years the average smoker has been being told he is committing a form of slow suicide.

Past Perfect Continuous: had been being + p.p. – Tobacco had been being smoked in many cultures before it arrived in Europe.

Future Perfect Continuous: will have been being + p.p. – If smoking is, for example, outlawed completely by 2020, vapor cigarettes will have been being sold for over a decade, making them a viable alternative to both the smoker and taxation stream.

Ideas for the passive voice

During an IELTS exam the most likely form of the passive is the past simple and present perfect. The future simple may also be used. It is very unlikely that long passive forms (such as the future perfect continuous) will be used.

(i) The passive voice is useful when talking about things people make, such as buildings, laws, and works of art.

Taiwan 101 was opened to relatively little international fanfare because Dubai was already building a new tallest tower.
Although a new law was passed recently banning smoking in restaurants, many people continue with the habit.

(ii) It is also useful when talking about when things open or close, start or finish.

The company was started in 2004 and immediately tapped into a captive market.
A new president will be elected in 2016, potentially meaning that once again the US political system will concentrate on being divisive rather than coordinated.

(iii) Exhibitions and host cities can also use the passive.

The World Cup has been held since 193o and continues to be grow in popularity.
The 2010 Expo was hosted by Shanghai and received a large number of visitors, although it is questionable whether it justified the expense.