Grammar Tips: The Passive Voice

ISI Dublin, grammar tips, the passive voice

Struggling with grammar nuances? In this guide, we’ll explore practical examples to unravel the mysteries of passive voice usage. Let’s delve into sentences and enhance your understanding of grammar intricacies together.

ISI Dublin, grammar tips, the passive voice


Take a look at these two sentences and try to notice why they are different:

A man was arrested last night for a crime in Dicey’s nightclub.
The police arrested a man last night for a crime in Dicey’s nightclub. 

First of all, let’s ask which sentence is active and which is passive? To do this, we must find the main verb; in this case it is ‘arrested’.

Next we ask ourselves who did the arresting? The police.

Therefore the second sentence is active and the first is passive (the police aren’t mentioned in the first sentence).

In this case the passive tense is much more common. That is because the only people allowed to arrest you are the police and it is obvious they are doing the arresting, therefore we don’t need to mention them.


Let’s take another sentence:

The White House was built in 1800.

Now apply the same logic: what is the main verb? In this case it is ‘built’. Do we say who built it? No, therefore it is in the passive voice.

The difference between >A man was arrested last night for a crime in Dicey’s nightclub >and>The White House was built in 1800 > is that in the first sentence we know the police  arrested the man but in the second sentence we don’t know who built the White House and we don’t really care. We are more interested in the building than who built it.


But what if the person who did the action is important but not as important as what they did?

Again let’s take two sentences:

James Joyce wrote Ulysses.
Ulysses was written by James Joyce.

Both of these sentences contain exactly the same information. However, the focus of the sentences are different. The first sentence is about James Joyce, the second sentence is about the book Ulysses.

The main verb is ‘wrote’ and this was done by James Joyce, therefore the first sentence is active and the second is passive because in the second sentence Ulysses is coming before the verb and the book Ulysses did not write the man Joyce, it is the other way around.

Understanding the active and passive voice is crucial for effective communication.

We discussed about 3 different ‘Conditionals’ last time, you can check the blog here. Or join the Adults English Course at ISI Dublin, to learn grammar and more tips in English.

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