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The Passive Voice

The Passive Voice

Date: May 24 2007

Topic: Grammar

Author: skyscraperman


The passive voice should only be used at certain times in English. The passive voice, in which the object precedes the verb and the subject, should usually be avoided.  

The house was painted by James.

This should be: James painted the house. 

However, when we talk about specific works of art or literature, we can use the passive voice.

Guernica was painted by Pablo Picasso. Here we are talking about a specific work of art that’s nearly as famous as the person who painted it.

Romeo and Juliet was written by William Shakepeare.

Ulysses was written by James Joyce.


We also use the passive voice when the object is more famous than the subject.

Khalid Islambouli shot Anwar Sadat.

This is not correct. Anwar Sadat was one of the most important figures of the 20th Century and Mr. Islambouli was not.

Thus, we would use passive voice.

Anwar Sadat was shot by Khalid Islambouli.


More examples:

The Mona Lisa was stolen by a robber in a black mask.

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

The bridge was designed by Santiago Calatrava.


It’s easy to think of your own. Make a list of ten famous buildings, paintings or historical figures and create your own sentences in the passive voice.


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