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University of VictoriaIntroduction to IT English
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Passives

Definition

A passive is a verb form that describes what happens to people and things, or what is done to people and things. Passive is the opposite of active. Active verbs describe what people or things do.

Example

Brad installed the software. (Active)

The software was installed by Brad. (Passive)

Notice that in the active sentence, the object of the verb “install” is “the software”. In the passive sentence, “the software” is the subject of the verb.

Explanation

Passives —

  • use the auxiliary verb “be” with the past participle.
  • use the expression “by”, to show who or what does the action.
  • are used in a variety of tenses.
  • can be used with modals.
  • use “it” to introduce a clause as the subject.
    For example, “It is believed that education is important.”
  • cannot be used with intransitive verbs. (Intransitive verbs have no object, for example, “die”, “arrive”, “sleep”.)
  • usually do not have infinitives as subjects.
    For example, “Maude wants to see the movie” (active sentence); “To see the movie was wanted by Maude” (not possible in passive form).