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Passive voice (Discoveries and inventions)

Presentation / Objective

How much do you know about inventions?

Man operating machine

Experimenter Publishing. (2008). Science and Invention Nov 1928 Cover 2. Retrieved 16/02/17 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Science_and_Invention_Nov_1928_Cover_2.jpg

We will travel around the world and time to learn more about the most important and the newest discoveries and inventions and their authors. On the linguistic aspect, we will learn about passive voice, what it is, how we form it, when we use it, and its difference to active voice.


At the end of this topic you will:
Apply the concept of passive voice in sentences in the context of discoveries and inventions around the globe.


So, let’s talk about discoveries and inventions.

We are going to begin with one of them, the telephone.

Consider what we know is of fundamental importance to learn new things, so, tell us about yourself!

Read the following short texts about the inventions.


Alles. (2016). Teléfono de la vendimia. Retrieved 16/02/17 from https://pixabay.com/es/tel%C3%A9fono-de-la-vendimia-tel%C3%A9fono-1750817/

The invention of the telephone was done by a group of individuals, many different companies. However, it is believed that the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1875 with the help of his friend Thomas A. Watson.

Anders. (2006). Mobile pone evolution. Retrieved 16/02/17 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mobile_phone_evolution.jpg

A mobile phone is a portable telephone that can make and receive calls over a radio frequency while the user is moving around a telephoned serviced area. The first mobile phone was created by Martin Cooper a researcher from Motorola in 1973. And the first phonecall was made to John F Mitchel. It was until 1980’s when the first commercial mobile phones were sold. And, do you have a mobile phone?


Dambrāns, K. (2014). iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus vs iPhone 5S. Retreived 16/02/17 from https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/15707819731

The first mobile phone with smart devices incorporated was developed by IBM in 1992, but it was not very popular in the world. It was until 1994 that the first commercially produced Smartphone was introduced by the company Simon Personal Communicator. Emails and faxes were received by the SImon, the name of the first Smartphone.

As you can see, we’re talking about one of the most incredible inventions of our time, the phone.

Now look at the following sentences taken from the texts:











This sentence is written in passive voice, we recognize the passive voice by looking at different elements, for example the subject is at the end of the sentence.










Another important element of a passive voice sentence is that we use the verb to be and the participle of another verb.











One of the key features of the passive voice is that the first element in the sentence is the OBJECT or the element that is being affected by the verb.


Unscrambled sentences

Read the following scrambled sentences and put them in the correct order.

Look at the following explanation that will give you more detailed information.

Read the following short texts about the inventions.

What is there to know about passive voice?

The main idea behind a passive voice sentence is the emphasis we give to the object or action that we do. For example:

a. The light bulb was invented by Thomas A. Edison.

We emphasize the object/action by putting them in first place in a sentence. In (a) we say that the light bulb and not the telephone is what Thomas A. Edison invented.

b. Light bulbs are made of glass

Sometimes the subject of an action is not important or relevant for the sentence like in (b). In those cases where the subject is not relevant we can use passive voice.

As we previously said, the key factor of passive voice is that we emphasize the object/action of a sentence and NOT the subject. For this reason is that we make changes to the verbs.
One important characteristic about passive voice sentences is the use of the verb to be and the use of another verb in the participle form. The verb to be indicates the tense. Look at the examples:

c. Penicillin was invented by the Scottish scientist Ian Fleming

d. Penicillin is used today to cure diseases like pneumonia.

In both sentences (c) and (d) the verb to be is used to form passive voice. In (c) we can see the verb to be is in past form, so we have a past passive voice.
In (d) the verb to be is the present tense, so we have a present passive voice.

When we say main verbs, we refer to the action verbs. In concept 2 we mentioned that the verb to be indicates the tense: past, present, etc.
The action verb expresses the activity performed. Look at the sentences:

c. Penicillin was invented by the Scottish scientist Ian Fleming

d. Penicillin is used today to cure diseases like pneumonia.

In (c) and (d) the main verbs invent and use are used in their participle form.

It is actually pretty easy follow this steps:

1. The first element must be the element affected by the verb.
2. The verb must contain the verb to be AND another verb in participle.
3. If you see a by after the verb that means your subject.
4. If you do not have by, then the subject is absent


Match the verbs

To make appropriate passive voice sentences it is really important to know verbs.

Did you make the appropriate matching of the verbs? Excellent! In the passive voice it is really important to identify the appropriate form of the verbs.

Sometimes it is difficult to mention the name of the “inventor”, because there are many people involved. In other ocassions, the person that takes credit for an invention just added a crucial changed to the object to make it more popular. In any case, inventions make sometimes revolutions in our daily lives. Which invention do you find most important?

Active or passive voice?

The Following sentences were taken from the previous text about the most important inventions.

What is the tense?

The basic tenses in English are simple past, simple present, simple future. Passive voice is not precisely a new tense, passive voice is simply another way to express things where we put special emphasis on the object/action of the sentence. To appropiately form a passive voice we need verb to be & participle of an action verb.

Verb to be

indicate tense

Participle of verb

indicate action performed

What about the negative and interrogative?

As with other tenses, it is important to identify how to use the negative and the interrogative form, here you will find a brief explanation:


Regularly negative forms are expressed through the use of NOT. Look at the example:

a. Fire was NOT discovered by the modern man
b. Regular books are NOT read by new generations who prefer e-boks

The first example is a past passive sentence, and we know it because the verb to be is in past. On the contrary the second sentence is in present passive, the verb to be is in the present tense.

As you can see the particle NOT is placed right before the auxiliary (to be) and before the main action verb in participle. It is possible to find them in contractions such as:

Is not→ isn’t
Are not → aren’t
Was not → wasn’t
Were not → weren’t


As in any other interrogative form, the auxiliary plays an important role in questions. It MUST BE placed in first position:

c. Was penicillyn discovered in 2001?
d. Is Facebook used by millions of people?

In the examples in (c) and (d) you can see that the auxiliary in first position makes possible to have an interrogative form of a sentence.


Activity 1

Discoveries and inventions for children?

In this topic you are learning about discoveries, inventions and of course, about passive voice.

The following short text will help you analyze the importance of discoveries and inventions used by children.

In this activity you will identify and analyze the importance of passive voice to emphasize the object/action in sentences.

You will read about inventions and discoveries that are used by children.

To start, match the picture to the appropriate vocabulary.

Now read the next text:

After reading, choose which is the appropriate heading to the paragraphs according to their content:


Activity 2

Facebook a great invention?

To continue with the topic we will discuss about one of the modern inventions that is most used by millions of people around the world, Facebook.

In this audio you will listen to someone talking about Facebook in his daily life. Remeber to make notes that help you identify relevant information.

To begin with, read the following questions and decide if the following statements are true or false by choosing the appropriate option. You can know your score at the end of the exercise.

Now listen to Jim talking about his use of social networking.

Now decide if the following statements are true or false by choosing the appropriate option. You can know your score at the end of the exercise.


Activity 3

My favourite social network is…

Social networks are definitely the invention of our time. But what do you know about their inventors?

Start by searching for information about the inventors of whatsapp and Facebook. Keep in mind that the information you find has to answer these questions, at least:

a) Who invented it?
b) When was invented?
c) How did they have the idea
d) Why is it important?

Then, using the information you found about the social networks whatsapp and Facebook, write a text (wording 100-120) about one of the social networks, ONLY ONE (facebook or whatsapp). Don’t forget to use the present and past passive voice. If you have any question you can always check the previous sections to clarify.

Follow the guidelines:

a) What will you talk about?
b) Why did you choose this invention?
c) What’s important about the invention?
d) Who invented it and when was it invented?
e) How much do you use it?
f) If you did not have this social network your life would be different because…

Evaluation parameters

Your text will be evaluated considering these parameters:


Twitter was created by Evan Williams in the USA, in 2009. It was thought to be an easy way to communicate using mobile phones or tablets. However, it turned to be easily accepted worldwide that the inventor decided to collaborate with Samsung and they made the app for free but it was linked to big telephone companies value, so Twitter time cost by using credit of the phone …


Activity 4

The most important discovery for me.

In this exercise you will talk for 3 minutes about the most important discovery in your opinion. In your talk you must make use of passive voice and active voice as necessary. Rememeber that if you have any question you can always check the previous sections on the module.

Suggestions for your file:

a) It is a good idea to prepare the information you want yo talk about. Follow these questions:
1. What will you talk about?
2. why did you choose this invention

3. What’s important about the invention?
4. Who invented it and when was it invented.
5. How much do you use it?
6. If you didnt have this social network your life would be different because…
b) Write a paragraph of what you want to talk about. Rememeber to verify grammar and vocabulary.
c) Practice saying your text a couple of times before recording it. When you record it you will feel more condifent.

Evaluation parameters:
1) The file must be 3 minutes minimum.
2) You should consider the organization given in the guidelines.
3) You must be fluent in the audiofile.
4) Appropriate pronunciation of basic elements of the English language such as past tenses.

Listen to the example “The Internet invention” so you can have an idea of your own.

Once you are ready you will record your account. After that, listen to you and evaluate yourself following the previous parameter list and decide from the rubric how well you did in this exercise.


How much do you understand about passive?

The following exercises have the objective to help you evaluate how much you learned about the different characteristics of passive voice and about its use.


Basic references

• British Council (2016). Active and passive voice. Retrieved 11/11/2016 from https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/es/english-grammar/verbs/active-and-passive-voice

• English-Hilfen.de. (n.d.). Passive voice. English gramamar exercises.
Retrieved 11/11/2016 from http://www.englisch-hilfen.de/en/exercises_list/passiv.htm

• Attenbury, J. (2017). Top inventions for kids. How stuff works. Retrieved 07/02/2017 from http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/inventions/5-inventions-for-kids.htm