Students often ask me about the passive voice and whether or not they should use the passive voice for IELTS. Sometimes people will tell you not to use the passive as it can sound awkward, which is definitely true. However, the passive does have some practical uses. Therefore, the answer to “Should you use the passive voice for IELTS?” is… well, sometimes.
What is the Passive Voice
Here’s an example:
Active: Hunter S. Thompson wrote The Rum Diary.
Passive: The Rum Diary was written by Hunter S. Thompson.
You can see that the sentence is now effectively backwards. The person who does the writing (Hunter S. Thompson) has gone from being at the start of the sentence to the end. Instead, we are focusing on the book (The Rum Diary).
Why do we use the Passive Voice?
Above, you can see that the we putting the book first. This means it is more important in the sentence. We often do this with books, movies, paintings, and inventions. Sometimes it is the creator that is most important, and sometimes it is the creation:
Passive: The lightbulb was invented by Thomas Edison.
Sometimes, however, we just don’t know or don’t want to say who did the verb.
She was murdered last night. (Who murdered her? We don’t know.)
He was arrested. (Who arrested him. Obviously, it was the police – you don’t need to say.)
Learn more about the Passive Voice
To find out more about the passive voice, you can look at this free PPT. I made it for my students, and I think it will be helpful for IELTS candidates all around the world.
Passive Voice in IELTS
So… then when exactly should we use the passive voice in IELTS?
As we saw above, we often use the passive voice when talking about famous creations like books, movies, and so on. So you might be able to use the passive in the speaking test when asked about these things. Here are some examples:
My favourite book is The Catcher in the Rye. It was written by JD Salinger.
I like rock music. One of my favourite songs is Sweet Child of Mine, which was sung by Guns ‘n’ Roses.
However, mostly you will be using the active voice. Remember that the passive voice is quite formal, and not all words can be used in this voice. For example, you cannot use intransitive verbs with the passive. Other times, the passive just makes a sentence confusing and awkward. Look at this example of bad passive use:
Paris was visited by me last year. The Eiffel Tower was seen by my family. The food there was really enjoyed by us.
You can use the passive voice in the IELTS writing exam. It’s much less common in task 2; however, you will rely heavily upon it for task 1 if you need to describe a process.
Water is heated to 100 degrees.
The liquid is extracted from the mix.
Stones are put into the box.
Sand is removed from the pipe.
The active voice is far more common than the passive voice in English, and therefore you should use it more in the IELTS exam. However, sometimes the passive voice is more appropriate. You should learn the passive so that you can better understand listening and reading passages, but also know when and how to use it yourself. There are times in the speaking and writing exams when you could use the passive voice. The most important is task 1 when you need to describe a process.