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What is the passive voice?

The “voice” of a verb refers to the relationship between the verb and the subject. There are two voices: active and passive. So far most of the verbs you have encountered were in the active voice.

Look at these sentences:

Ana escribió la carta (Ana wrote the letter)-
Mi padre abrió la puerta (My father opened the door)

The same meaning could also be expressed like this:

La carta fue escrita por Ana (The letter was written by Ana)
La puerta fue abierta por mi padre (The door was opened by my father)

The first two sentences are in the active voice and the latter sentences are in the passive voice.

The difference is that in the passive voice, the object of the verb becomes the subject. Look at the first example again:

Active voice

Ana wrote the letter [Who wrote the letter? = Ana (subject)]
What did Ana write? = the letter (direct object)

Passive voice

The letter was written by Ana [What was written? = the letter (this is now the subject)]

How is the passive voice formed?

To form the passive voice we use the appropriate tense of the verb ser, plus the past participle of the verb referred to.

The subject in the first sentence becomes the ‘agent’ in the second one and is preceded by por (by) .
The object in the first sentence becomes the subject in the second sentence.

Los bomberos rescataron a las víctimas (The firefighters rescued the victims)

Las víctimas fueron rescatadas por los bomberos (The victims were rescued by the firefighters)


Notice that the past participle changes to agree with the subject:

Las víctimas fueron rescatadas (The victims were rescued)
Víctimas (feminine, plural) rescatadas (participle, feminine plural)

El hombre fue rescatado (The man was rescued)
Hombre (masculine, singular) rescatado (participle, masculine singular)

The most common forms of the passive will use the present or the preterite of ser, although other tenses can also be used.

Present tense             Preterite tense
yo soy                                  fui
tú eres                               fuiste
Vd./él/ella es                       fue
nosotros/as somos           fuimos
vosotros/as sois              fuisteis
Vds./ellos/ellas son          fueron

Plácido Domingo es conocido en todo el mundo (Plácido Domingo is known all over the world)

Los heridos fueron trasladados al hospital (The wounded were taken to hospital)

How to avoid the passive voice

In Spanish the passive voice is not used as much as it is in English. It can be avoided in several ways:

by using the impersonal form of the verb – conocida como pasiva refleja también
El español se habla en muchos países (Spanish is spoken in many countries)
Se prohibe fumar (Smoking is forbidden)
Se ruega a los señores pasajeros que no usen sus teléfonos móviles
(Passengers are requested not to use their mobile phones)

by simply using the active voice
El libro fue escrito por Pablo Neruda (The book was written by Pablo Neruda)
Pablo Neruda escribió el libro (Pablo Neruda wrote the book)

by using the 3rd person plural of the verb in the active voice
Los heridos fueron llevados al hospital (The wounded were taken to hospital) (passive)
Llevaron a los heridos al hospital (They took the wounded to hospital) (active)