Knowing how to transform a sentence from active to passive voice is very important when writing any text, be it academic, professional or personal. This transformation does not modify the meaning of the sentence but instead changes the emphasis from the subject (the person who performs the action) to the direct object (the object that receives the action). To passive a sentence, you first have to identify the verb tense used to hold it during the change. Then, identify the subject, verb, and direct object of the sentence. Finally, change the sentence structure so that it begins with the direct object and ends with the subject.
Part 1 of 3: Identify the verb tense of the sentence
Step 1. Learn to recognize the different types of the present
The present tense describes an action performed in the present moment. It is not a future, past, or hypothetical phrase. Spanish has the present simple, present continuous, present perfect and present perfect continuous. All indicate an action in the present. The difference lies in the duration of the action.
- The present simple is composed of subject + verb. For example: "He writes."
- The present continuous is composed of subject + verb "to be" or "to be" + verb. For example: "He is writing."
- The present perfect is composed of the subject + verb "have" + verb. For example: "He has written."
- The present perfect continuous is composed of the subject + verb "to have" + verb "to be" + verb. For example: "He has been writing."
Step 2. Identify the different times of the past
As with the present tense, Spanish also has different verb tenses in the past tense: past simple, past perfect, past conditional and past perfect conditional. All times past describe something that has already happened.
- The simple past is composed of the subject + verb. For example: "He wrote."
- The past perfect is composed of the subject + "have" + verb. For example: "He had written."
- The past continuous is composed of the subject + verb "to be" or "to be" + verb. For example: "He was writing."
- The past perfect continuous is composed of the subject + "have" + "to be" or "to be" + verb. For example: "He had been writing."
Step 3. Identify the different times in the future
As with the present and the past, Spanish has multiple future tense forms. Each version indicates an action that has not yet occurred but will occur in the future. The distinction between the types of future indicates the complete or incomplete character of the future action.
- The future simple is composed of the subject + verb conjugated in the future. For example: "He will write."
- The future perfect is composed of the subject + "have" + verb. For example: "He will have written."
- The future continuous is composed of the subject + verb "to be" or "to be" + verb. For example: "He will be writing."
- The future perfect continuous is composed of the subject + "have" + "to be" or "to be" + verb. For example: "He will have been writing."
Part 2 of 3: Transform the sentence
Step 1. Move the object to the beginning of the sentence
Generally, active-voice sentences begin with the subject and describe the action that the subject performs on the direct object. To make them passive, change the order of the sentence by moving the direct object to the beginning of the sentence. This serves to emphasize the object as the recipient of the action.
- For example, the sentence "He will write a letter" is in the future and in active voice.
- To passive voice, move the direct object to the beginning of the sentence and hold the future tense: "A letter will be written by him."
Step 2. Put the auxiliary verb before the main verb
This serves to transform the active verb into a passive verb and thus highlight the way in which the action was performed on the direct object, rather than how the subject performed the action (as in active-voice sentences).
Depending on the verb tense used, the verb can be conjugated as: "is", "was", "will be", "has been", etc
Step 3. Place the preposition "by" before the subject
The subject must be at the end of the sentence in the passive voice, preceded by "by". When placed at the end of the sentence, the particle will make the subject appear after the direct object and the verb, for example: “The section of the highway was paved by the construction team”.
- If you do not know the subject (the one who performs the action), you may not be able to add the preposition "by".
- For example, if you have received a letter but do not know who sent it, you can write "The letter was sent to me on November 1" but you will not be able to clarify who sent it.
Step 4. Respect the verb tense of the sentence
When modifying, be sure to keep the same verb tense as the original sentence and not to eliminate auxiliary verbs (verbs that modify the tense of the main verb) such as “to be”, “to be able”, “to do” and “to have”. Reread the phrase in the passive voice to make sure it continues in the same tense as before. For instance:
- Active voice, present tense: "The cat kills the mice."
- Passive voice, present tense: "Mice are killed by the cat."
- Active voice, continuous past tense: "Some boys were helping the wounded men."
- Passive voice, continuous past tense: "The wounded men were being helped by some boys."
- Active voice, future tense: "Someone has stolen my purse."
- Passive voice, perfect future tense: "My purse must have been stolen by someone."
Part 3 of 3: Learning to Use the Passive Voice
Step 1. Take the emphasis off the subject
In some cases, using the passive voice is not recommended as it can be an indication of poor writing. However, there are many cases in which it is very appropriate to use it. The active voice places the subject (the one who performs the action) at the beginning of the clause. The passive voice places the subject in the background by focusing on the direct object receiving the action.
- Be careful when de-emphasizing your subject as in some cases, this can confuse the reader. The passive voice can eliminate the subject of the sentence completely.
- For example, if a politician says "I have lied to the Americans," this expression can show honesty and regret. If instead he said "The Americans have been victims of lies", the politician will be exempt from guilt by placing the phrase in a passive voice and by eliminating the subject.
Step 2. Place the direct object in a place of importance
If the subject is not relatively as important as the direct object and the action performed, you can use the passive voice. Generally, writers use the passive voice when describing a fact or event in which the direct object or action is more important than the subject itself.
For example, in the sentence "American nuclear devices were tested in July 1945," the emphasis is on nuclear devices and keeps investigators anonymous
Step 3. Write a scientific or technical article in the passive voice
In scientific texts, the passive voice is used to indicate objectivity and detachment in relation to the topic or the research of the article. In a scientific article, the sections that describe "Methods", "Materials" or "Processes" are almost always in passive voice.
- For example, instead of writing: "My team installed seven control sections in the river," use the structure "Seven control sections were installed in the river."
- In these cases, the passive voice allows the anonymity of the action; anyone can reproduce the experiment by repeating the same steps. By using the passive voice, it is indicated that the results can be replicated regardless of the scientists involved.