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Past simple – 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 simple 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.

was/were + past participle (helped, known) 

Uses:

 

  • The subject is unknown, therefore, we don’t know who or what is the subject. 

Something was stolen from our garage last night.

Some sort of creature was born.

 

  • We use the passive to emphasise the subject. 

The queen was told to listen.

It was Henry who shouted at the guards.

 

  • We use the passive to talk about general truths. 

The earth was occupied by dinosaurs over 65 million years ago.

World war two was spread out over a six-year period.

 

  • We can use the passive if we want to be unclear or vague about the subject.  

A suitcase was found at the airport. (We don’t know about the specific contents of the suitcase, as a result, we use the passive). 

All she told me was that letters were written. 

 

  • We use the passive when the subject is irrelevant. (We don’t care who or what has caused the action to be). 

Great literature was written in the late eighteenth century.

A painting was sold for more than one million euros last night.

 

  • We use the passive in a more formal atmosphere like a thesis or an important piece of writing, especially scientifically speaking. 

The elements of the structure were put into the mix.

The climates change issue was discussed. 

 

See also: 

 

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