Passive voice (Language and Learning Online)

Passive voice

This tutorial contains four sections on the use of passive verbs.

Once you enter the module, we suggest you work through these sections in the given order.

Each section includes a 'Language in context' passage, exercises, grammar notes, and a review passage.

You can navigate through the tutorial using the menu on the left, but we suggest you work through each of the sections in the given order.





Recognising passives

The following passage is from a report written by an accounting student.

The passive verbs are highlighted.

Click on the highlighted text for an explanation of the passive voice in use.

Language in context passage

Executive summary

The purpose of this report is to assess the impact of globalisation on management accounting and to outline changes which [1]need to be implemented as a response to globalisation. The report suggests that management accounting needs to focus on a range of information apart from the financial, to make more informed decisions.

[2]It is argued that, in the past, management accounting involved supplying figures to organisations. However, in the global marketplace, management accountants [3]are expected to actively facilitate decision-making and to assist in the management of transnational corporations. [4]It is further argued that traditional management accounting techniques are no longer relevant. Rather, concentration [5]needs to be given to providing additional benefits to organisations such as timely, quality and focused information which can initiate effective management action.

With rapid market changes, constant cost control and quality improvement, as well as meeting customers' needs, are essential requirements of a management accountant's portfolio. For this to occur, [6]it is recommended that all accountants familiarise themselves with these changes and the subsequent effects on management accounting. Furthermore, consideration [7]should also be given to how these changes [8]could be most efficiently implemented in accounting workplaces.

(Adapted from: P.V.Cotesta, G.M.Crosling and H.M. Murphy, Writing for Accounting Students, 1998, Butterworths, Australia. p. 26.)

[1]

The passive voice is used here because it is unimportant to mention or because it is not known yet who might implement the changes.

Note the passive form be implemented after the modal verb 'need to', which has the meaning should.

[2]

The passive voice is used in the phrase 'It is argued' to avoid using the informal personal pronoun 'I'. Reports typically adopt a formal impersonal tone.

Note that the form of the verb 'to be' always agrees in number and person with its subject, unless preceded by a modal.

[3]

The passive voice is used here to emphasise which people are expected to perform rather than who expects them to perform.

Note that the form of the verb 'to be' always agrees in number and person with its subject, unless preceded by a modal.

[4]

The passive voice is used in the phrase 'It is further argued' to avoid using the informal personal pronoun 'I'. Reports typically adopt a formal impersonal tone.

Note that the form of the verb 'to be' always agrees in number and person with its subject, unless preceded by a modal.

[5]

The passive voice is used here to emphasise what needs to happen rather than who should do it.

Note the passive form be given after the modal verb 'need to', which has the meaning should.

[6]

The passive voice is used in the phrase 'It is recommended' to avoid using the informal personal pronoun 'I'. Reports typically adopt a formal impersonal tone.

Note that the form of the verb 'to be' always agrees in number and person with its subject, unless preceded by a modal.

[7]

The passive voice is used here to emphasise what should happen rather than who should do it.

Note the passive form be given after the modal should.

Also note the insertion of the qualifying word 'also' before the passive verb form.

[8]

The passive voice is used here to emphasise what could be done and how it could be done rather than who might do it.

Note the passive form ' be most efficiently implemented' after the modal verb 'could'.

Also note the insertion of the qualifying words 'most efficiently' between the two parts of the passive verb form.

Notes on the passive

Why were passive verbs used in the 'Language in context' accounting report?

  1. The Executive Summary is part of an academic report. The passive voice is used to give the report a formal, impersonal tone, avoiding personal pronouns.

  2. Instead of 'I argue that...', the student writes: It is argued that...
    It is further argued that...
    It is recommended that...
  3. It may be difficult to determine precisely who is doing / should do something.

  4. In this case, for example, there may be a general expectation that accountants should actively facilitate decision-making, hence the student writes, 'accountants are expected to...'
  5. The student emphasises what should happen. Who should do it may be beyond his / her purpose in this report, or may be considered less important.

'The report suggests...' is an active verb form in which the report becomes the subject to avoid writing 'I suggest...'

Why use passive verbs

Language in context

There are 5 passive verbs in the following passage.

Read the passage, and use words from it to complete the exercise below.

Profit which is earned by a listed company on the stock exchange may be utilised in two different ways. The company may pay dividends to stockholders or may reinvest the profit. Both choices are related to each other and need to be based on what is called the dividend policy.

Type (or copy and paste) each passive verb from the passage above into its corresponding box below. Check your answer, then go on to the next question.

  1. First passive verb:
  2. input
  3. Second passive verb:
  4. input
  5. Third passive verb:
  6. input
  7. Fourth passive verb:
  8. input
  9. Fifth passive verb:
  10. input

Notes on using the passive

The passive voice may use any tense of the verb to be.

to be past participle
It / They is / are

was / were
(present simple)

(past simple)
recommended
Change(s) is being / are being

was being / were being
(present continuous)

(past continuous)
implemented
It / They has been / have been

had been
(present perfect)

(past perfect)
incorporated
It / They will be (future) incorporated

Examples

It is recommended...

Changes are being implemented...

They have been incorporated...

A passive verb may be preceded by a modal.

In this case, for example, there may be a general expectation that accountants should actively facilitate decision-making, hence the student writes, 'accountants are expected to...'

Examples

Changes could be implemented...

Consideration should have been given...

Active vs. passive

Language in context

Profit which is earned by a listed company on the stock exchange may be utilised in two different ways. Dividends may be paid to stockholders or the profit may be invested by the company. Both choices are related to each other and need to be based on what is called the dividend policy.

Exercises

Identify the type of verb - active or passive - then check your answers.

  1. is earned input
  2. may pay input
  3. may reinvest input
  4. are related input


Active or passive? Which verb form would be correct in each sentence?

Select the correct verb from the drop-down box in each of the following sentences.

Comments appear below each.

  1. Management accountants input the effects of rapid market changes.

  2. A range of information input in order to make informed decisions.

  3. The decisions input the findings in this report.

Notes on active vs passive

Compare these active and passive verbs from the passage

Active voice Passive voice
the report suggests accountants are expected to facilitate
management accounting needs to focus changes need to be implemented
management accounting involved concentration needs to be given

With the passive voice examples we are not told:

The active voice places the emphasis on the 'actor' (the subject of the verb) The passive voice places the emphasis on what is being done / should be done, rather than on who is doing it / should do it.
Examples

They should implement changes.

We now expect accountants to actively facilitate decision-making.
Examples

Changes should be implemented.

Accountants are now expected to actively facilitate decision-making.


With some passive verbs the 'actor' is mentioned, usually using the preposition by.

Example

Changes need to be implemented by management accountants.

In this type of sentence, the emphasis is still on:

Changing active to passive

Language in context

Profit which is earned by a listed company on the stock exchange may be utilised in two different ways. The company may pay dividends to stockholders or may reinvest the profit . Both choices are related to each other and need to be based on what is called the dividend policy.

Change each example below to the passive form.

  1. The company may pay dividends...
  2. input
  3. The company may reinvest the profit...
  4. input

Notes on changing active to passive

If you need to change an active verb to the passive form, follow these three steps.

Example: active voice
subject verb object
The manager will implement these changes next year.
Steps to change an active voice to passive form
Step 1 Move the object to the subject position
These changes
Step 2 Change the verb to the passive
These changes will be implemented
Step 3 Drop the original subject
These changes will be implemented next year.
or move it to a position after the verb
These changes will be implemented by the manager next year.

Passive review

Enter the correct passive verb form into each box in the Language in context passage. The base form of the verb is supplied in brackets. check your answers by clicking the button Check answers beside each box.

Language in context passage

Executive summary

The purpose of this report is to assess the impact of globalisation on management accounting and to outline changes which need to (implement) input as a response to globalisation. The report suggests that management accounting needs to focus on a range of information apart from the financial, to make more informed decisions.

It (argue) input that, in the past, management accounting involved supplying figures to organisations. However, in the global marketplace, management accountants (expect) input to actively facilitate decision-making and to assist in the management of transnational corporations. It (further argue) input that traditional management accounting techniques are no longer relevant. Rather, concentration needs to (give) input to providing additional benefits to organisations such as timely, quality and focused information which can initiate effective management action.

With rapid market changes, constant cost control and quality improvement, as well as meeting customers' needs, are essential requirements of a management accountant's portfolio. For this to occur, it (recommend) input that all accountants familiarise themselves with these changes and the subsequent effects on management accounting. Furthermore, consideration should also (give) input to how these changes could (most efficiently implement) input in accounting workplaces.



(Adapted from: P.V.Cotesta, G.M.Crosling and H.M. Murphy, Writing for Accounting Students, 1998, Butterworths, Australia, p. 26.)

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