Passive Voice

In Academic English, the use of passive structures is extremely important. The examiner will look for passives in your answer, and you will not be able to achieve over Band 7 unless you show that you can use them properly. As a general rule, try to use a passive structure at least:

  • once in each paragraph of your main body, for task 2 essay
  • 1- 2 if task 1. You will be using more when its process diagram
  • 1-2 if letter.

Let’s understand what is active and passive:-

What is active and passive voice?

This beautiful girl on your right is Rashmi. Let me use her name to enlighten the concept of active and passive voice in IELTS. There are two different sentences about her divided under active and passive voice. Notice the bold letters, they are the sentence focus.

Rashmi smiling for the photoshoot…

Active VoicePassive Voice
We elected Rashmi for the position.
Who elected Rashmi?
Answer: We.
Rasmi was elected for receptionist. 
Who elected Rashmi? 
Answer: Not mentioned

Active voice is about emphasizing the person/ subject (we) whereas passive is about the action(was elected).

The person who performs an action in a passive sentence is called the agent, introduced by by. The agent may or may not be mentioned.

Writing in the active voice is clearer and more direct. It helps you to convey your meaning more easily. If you use the passive voice, however, your sentences may become too wordy. Wordy sentences often lack focus, causing your readers to have a tough time identifying your point.

However, a way that the passive is specifically needed for IELTS is if you get a process diagram in Academic IELTS Task 1.

When we describe a process such as this, we are not interested in who does the activity, the “doer”, we are interested in the activity itself.

How to change into passive?

Do this to change active into passive:-

  1. Move the object of the sentence and make it a new subject, 
  2. Use the tense rule given below in the table.
Government built the building (Object). → Government built the building (Object).                        

The passive can be used with all tenses. The table below gives examples of the most common forms in the passive:

tenseverb form  example
present simpleam   are ispast participleFinally, the product is delivered to local supermarkets
present continuousam   are is+ being + past participleThat cathedral is being repaired as we speak. 
past simplewas   werepast participleA significant increase in sales was witnessed between the years 2000 and 2010.
past continuouswas   were+ being + past participleWe didn’t know, but we were being monitored that day.
present perfect simplehave   has+ been + past participlehaven’t been asked to participate in the project.
past perfect simplehad+ been + past participleAn important lesson had been taught
modal simplecan   will might couldmay must+ be + past participleTrophy hunting may be allowed in some countries, but that doesn’t mean that it’s OK.
modal perfect simplecould   must+ have beenThe project could have been cancelled had it not been for him.

When to change active into passive?

It is much more common to use the active than the passive, so you should only use it if there is a specific reason. Below are are the reasons that we use it.

Remember that this is usually a matter of choice for you, depending on the context in which you are writing.

1. When action is more important than the agent

Agent centricAction Centric
The farmer harvested the corn in SeptemberThe corn was harvested in September

2. When agent does not need to be mentioned

With agentwithout agent
The police arrested the burglarThe burglar was arrested

3. When you are writing conclusion for certain genres, such as science reports or for academic journals

Referring to the agentHiding the agent
I can draw several conclusions from the resultsSeveral conclusions can be drawn from the results

Band 9 task 2 essay sample (sentence fragment)

Possibly the main cause is the increased volume of traffic moving through and over our countries, especially the urban areas. The ever-rising use of road vehicles and aircraft leads to high noise levels throughout the day and night, which can be exacerbated by poor levels of sound insulation in homes, schools and other buildings. further well-known cause is the amount of construction taking place, where roads and other facilities are built in rapid timescales. The use of machinery for this purpose results in decibel levels which can be dangerously high.  

Band 9 task 1(academic) sample (sentence fragment):

Those fresh bricks are then kept in a drying oven for at least 24 and a maximum of 48 hours, several dozen if not hundreds of bricks at a time. The dried bricks are then transferred to a so-called kiln, another type of high temperature oven. First they are kept at a moderate temperature of 200C – 1300C.Bhis process is followed by cooling down the finished bricks for 48 to 72 hours in a cooling chamber.

Band 9 task 1(letter) sample (sentence fragment):

I am writing to complain…

There was a great deal of violence in the program, which seemed to revolve around a war of some kind. The characters, many of whom looked quite young, fought using weapons such as swords and knives. Moreover, the violence was quite realistic and there was a great deal of blood. I was horrified that such material would be shown at a time when young children usually watch.