Year 5 Language and Literature

Active and Passive Voice

a tragic story

Usually, we have sentences like the ones we saw above where the subject of a sentence is at the beginning and does the action of the verb. We say these sentences are in the active voice. However, sometimes we want to use the passive voice when we change the order to show that the subject is having the verb done to them. Here are some examples:

Active voice

Juan is reading a book.
The postman delivered the letters.
The ball hit Angelica.

Passive voice

The book is being read by Juan.
The letters were delivered by the postman.
Angelica was hit by the ball.

We get a different sense of the meaning of a sentence depending on whether it is in the active or the passive voice. Although most sentences in English are in the active voice, sometimes we want to use the passive voice because we don’t know who or what ‘did’ the verb. Look at these sentences to see why.

Active voice

Lily took a picture of the winner.
Jake broke the window with his football.

Passive voice

A picture was taken of the winner.
The window was broken by a football.

Sometimes writers use the passive voice to provide some variety, but don’t use passive verbs too often as it can become boring! We usually want be told clearly who is ‘doing’ the verb.

Here are some sentences with verbs in the active voice. Try turning them around to make them passive.

Jenny’s mother baked a chocolate cake.
Maths takes up a lot of homework time.
Polar bears inhabit the Arctic.

Now try turning these passive verbs into active verbs.

Michael Morpurgo was chosen by most of the children as their favourite author.
The car was driven all the way to school by my father even though the petrol gauge was registering empty.
Fish are eaten by bears.

This activity is adapted from pages 50-51 of What Your Year 5 Child Needs to Know. This activity has a connection: click below to see the related activity.

language and literature owl