We use the passive, rather than the active, to show that we are more interested in a certain part of the sentence. The passive is usually formed by the verb to be + past participle.
Can you give me some examples of the active and passive?
Yes, of course. Here’s a passive sentence:
My room is being cleaned.
'My room' is the main focus of the sentence. The active form would be 'The cleaners are cleaning my room'. This sounds strange because it is obvious that, if you are in a hotel, cleaners would clean your room. So we sometimes use the passive to avoid stating the obvious.
OK, that makes sense. Are there any other uses?
We also use the passive when we don’t know who did something, or when it isn’t important.
It’s the biggest outdoor elevator in the world, so I’ve been informed.
It doesn’t matter who told me.
I think loads of films have been made there.
The important thing is the films, not the film-makers.
Can you use a passive and also say who did the action?
Avatar was made by James Cameron.
Is the passive formal?
No, not necessarily. It can be formal or neutral or informal.
I hope to find everything clean and tidy … you’ve been warned!
But we often avoid the passive in very informal spoken language, for example, by using they.
They based the scenery in Avatar on the landscape here.
We don’t know exactly who they are, but we can guess that it’s the people who made the film.
I think I’ve heard people use you a lot too when they don’t refer to anyone in particular.
Yes, very good! That’s another way of sounding more informal. You is a bit different; it means 'people in general'.
Parcels can be collected from the Post Office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (more formal)
You can collect parcels between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (less formal)
One last question, what about the passive with get? Is that informal too?
Yes, when we’re speaking informally we also often use get rather than the verb be.
He was sacked from his job. = He got sacked from his job.
But be careful, not all verbs can be used in the passive with get - only verbs for talking about an action or a change.
She was knocked off her bike by a bus. = She got knocked off her bike by a bus.
Charlie Chaplin was loved by millions.
Charlie Chaplin got loved by millions.
Phew, OK. I think my brain has been fried by all this!
Ah, OK, we’ll stop. But look - you’re using the passive correctly already!