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Past perfect – 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 perfect 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: had + been + past participle (found, helped) 

Example verb: email

I had been emailed   We had been emailed
You had been emailed   You (guys) had been emailed
He/she/it had been emailed   They had been emailed
(1) The subject is unknown. We don’t know who is the subject. 
  • A new factory had been built there ages ago. (We don’t know WHO built the factory). 
(2) We use the passive to emphasise the subject. 
  • Drugs had been detected in one of the cyclists during the Tour De France.
(3) We use the passive to talk about general truths. 
  • It had been thought for years not long ago that the earth was round.
(4) We can use the passive if we want to be unclear or vague about the subject. 
  • All is known is that mistakes had been committed during that period. (We are being vague about the ‘mistakes’ and not specifying which were the exact mistakes). 
(5) We use the passive when the subject is irrelevant. (We don’t care who or what has caused the action to be). 
  • Some guy from the information department had been told that he wasn’t allowed to leave before 18:00h. (Here, we aren’t interested in who the guy is, rather the fact that he wasn’t allowed to leave before 18:00h). 
(6) We use the passive in a more formal atmosphere like a thesis or an important piece of writing, especially scientifically speaking. 
  • Substances from the experiment had been located while researching.

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