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Past continuous – passive

There are several reasons as to why we use the passive voice in English. In these notes, we’re going to focus on the past continuous in the passive voice and its elaborations. Generally, we use the passive when the focus is on the action and NOT on WHO or WHAT is performing the action.

Construction: was/were + being + past participle 

Example verb: call

I was being called   We were being called
You were being called You (guys) were being called
  He/she/it was being called       They were being called
(1) The subject is unknown. We don’t know who or what is the subject. 
  • An email was being written by our supply team. (we don’t know the contents of the email, neither its transmitter or sender, only that is an email). 
  • An unidentified flying object was being recorded by many observers from around the globe. (the subject is unknown because we don’t know about the ‘unidentified object’). 
(2) We use the passive to emphasise the subject. 
  • I myself was being held captive there in a concentration camp. (The emphasis is on ‘myself’). 
  • The guards were the ones being incarcerated by their own allies.
(3) We use the passive to talk about general truths. 
  • The man was always being told what to do.
  • The native peoples of North America were always being dragged into the battle against the colonisers.
(4) We can use the passive if we want to be unclear or vague about the subject.  
  • All I can tell you is that a ship was being scheduled to land.
  • Letters were being written to the author.
(5) We use the passive when the subject is irrelevant. (We don’t care who or what has caused the action to be). 
  • Someone from their team was being brought to the resort to resolve the issue. Whoever the ‘someone’ is, is irrelevant in this context). 
  • I am not sure who exactly was being sought after by the police.
(6) We use the passive in a more formal atmosphere like a thesis or an important piece of writing, especially scientifically speaking. 
  • The movements in the middle east at that time in the past were being halted by forces from the north.
  • Sodium was being dissolved into the liquid for three minutes.

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