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Use of the passive voice
in past simple


In this topic, you will study a new structure called passive voice which is used to emphasize the result of an action. This will help you to reflect on the importance of historical events. You will read a brief history of the women’s right to vote in the USA and the UK and you will also learn some interesting facts about women’s fight for their political rights in Latin America.

Hombres en oficina

Retrieved on March 21, 2017 from http://bit.ly/2nNR7ur


At the end of this lesson you will:
Use passive voice to describe past events, focusing on the object of a verb to emphasize who or what receives an action instead of who or what performs it.


Use of passive voice in simple past.

As you remember we use the simple past to express an action that happened once or repeatedly in the past.

My friend invited me to a party

When you describe an event in the past you might want to emphasize different aspects of the same situation depending on what you consider to be more important. Look at the following picture:

Niños jugando Futbol

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How can you describe what is happening in the picture?
What is more important?

Active Voice

If you think the agent (the one performing the action) is more important than the object of the verb (the one receiving the action), maybe because you want to make someone responsible for something, then the agent becomes the subject of the sentence. This is called active voice.

nota 2

The children performed the action.

The children broke the window

worried children

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Passive Voice

But if you think the object of the verb (the one receiving the action) is more important than the agent (the one performing the action) then the object becomes the subject of the sentence. This is called passive voice.

Nota 3

The window received the action. The window is the object of the verb.

The window was broken

broken window

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To form the passive voice in past you need the appropriated form of the auxiliary verb to be in past and the past participle of the main verb.


The object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence. Compare:

Active Voice
Subject Verb Object
My Friend Invited Me to a party
Christopher Columbus discovered America
Passive Voice
Subject Verb
I Was invited To a party
America was discovered By Christopher Columbus

Sometimes a verb has two objects.

My friends gave me a surprise.

In this example we have two objects me and a surprise. You can change this sentence into the passive in two different ways.

I was given a surprise / a surprise was given to me.


We use passive voice when we are not interested to mention the agent, so most passive sentences don´t incluide it.

I was invited to a party.

When the agent is important in order to understand the idea, we use include it with the word by.

America was discovered by Christopher Columbus.


Activity 1

The Woman Suffrage Movement in the USA

When we describe historical events, we use the passive voice to emphasize the importance of an action.

You will read the history of the woman suffrage movement in the USA. You will identify how passive voice is being used to highlight key points in this movement. After reading the text you have to complete the information with the correct event.

woman suffrage


Activity 2

Women’s right to vote in Latin America

You just read how women in the USA got the right to vote but, what happened in the rest of the world? Do you know when women were allowed to vote in your own country?

Listen to an excerpt from a lecture on the women movement in Latin America then select true or false for the following statements.

Women and ballot boxes

Retrieved on March 17, 2017 from http://bit.ly/2n3wACa


Activity 3

In your own words

Now you have a better idea of how women got the right to vote in the USA and in Latin America. Let’s take a closer look at the women’s movement in Mexico.

Download and read about the struggle for women’s right to vote in Mexico.

The struggle for women’s right to vote in Mexico

Instruction. After you read the text, record yourself describing at least four key features of the movement in your own words using passive voice.

Before you submit your recording check out the rubric to make sure it meets the criteria.

Listen to the following example:


Activity 4

The History Blog

The ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution changed the world in a significant way. Some other events have had a similar impact.

Before you write your post check the rubric to make sure it meets the criteria.

You can visit this website to get some ideas: http://www.ranker.com/list/most-important-historical-events-of-the-20th-century/mwahahahaha

Follow the following example:

Two atomic bombs were detonated in Hiroshima and Nagazaki in August, 1945.

More than 120000 people were killed by the two atomic bombs.

The use of nuclear weapons was introduced by these two bombs.



Past Perfect Simple Review

Sometimes, fairy tales resulted from the hardships lived in certain periods in history. Such is the case of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl”. This touching story makes us re-evaluate our lives as well as those things we cherish most.

Read the following extract of this fairy tale and fill in the gaps with the past perfect simple of the verbs in the box below.


Basic References

  • Murphy, R., Altman, R., & Rutherford, W. E. (1989). Grammar in use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.