Lesson 44: USING THE PASSIVE

Lessons 42-43 show you how to make correct passive sentences. This lesson tells you when you can use the passive. In general, we use passives more often in writing than in speaking.


When the agent (Lesson 42) is obvious

In this sentence:

The enemy soldiers killed hundreds of our soldiers in the battle

We do not really need to know who killed our soldiers; We can already guess because this is what happens every time there is a battle. So, it is better to write:

Hundreds of our soldiers were killed in the battle.

Here are some more examples:

I was born in 1960. (AGENT: My mother)

There has been heavy snow in the north.
Several roads have been blocked and telephone lines have been cut.
(AGENT: The snow)


When the agent is not important

In this sentence:

People make bread from wheat.

we are not really interested in people; we are talking about bread. So, it is better to write:

Bread is made from wheat.

Here are some more examples:

Japan is called 'the Land of the Rising Sun'. (By people)
He was last seen in Montreal in 1976. (By somebody)
The noise could be heard all over town. (By everybody)
Have the dishes been done yet? (By anybody)


When the agent is 'new' information

Look at these two sentences:

'The Tempest' is a great play. Shakespeare wrote it in 1603

When we read the second sentence, we already know about the play (we learnt about it in the first sentence). But the writer's name is new information. In English, we usually put the new information after the 'old' in this kind of siituation. So, it is better to write:

'The Tempest' is a great play. It was written by Shakespeare in 1603.

Here are some more examples:

The Parthenon in Athens is a fine building. It was built by the Ancient Greeks.
The new information in the second sentence is the Ancient Greeks.

Terrible news! John has been run over by a bus.
We all know John, but we don't know the bus.

There are disagreements about the discovery of America. Some say it was discovered by Columbus in 1492, but others say it was discovered much earlier by Brendan, an Irish monk.
The new information in the second sentence is the names Columbus and Brendan.


To be polite

It is forbidden to speak to the driver while the bus is moving.
More polite than:
We forbid you to speak to the driver while the bus is moving.

Money should not be left in the rooms.
More polite than:
You should not leave money in the rooms.


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