Wednesday, March 6

Passive vs. Participle

I have to warn some readers that our topics for today are a bit higher level. They are going to be difficult.

Our targets today are often found in written grammar tests like the TOEIC. But you can still learn them if you read my lesson carefully.

image courtesy of stock.xchng 

First of all, take a look at our 2 example sentences:

The player was injured in the game.

The man taken to the hospital was my uncle.

QUESTION: What is the difference between the 2 sentences above?






ANSWER: The first sentence is a Passive sentence. On the other hand, the second sentence is a normal Active sentence with a Participial Phrase inside.

Like this:

The player was injured in the game. = Passive

The man taken to the hospital was my uncle. 
= Participial Phrase

How do I know? How can I tell?


Well, you should pay attention to the structure of the words inside the sentence. At first glance, our two sentences above might look very similar to each other. But try and point out their difference.

The player was injured in the game.

The man taken to the hospital was my uncle.

You might have already noticed it: The main difference between them – very small but also very important – is the presence of the “Be” Verb in the first sentence and the absence of the “Be” Verb in the second sentence:

The player was injured in the game.

The man taken to the hospital was my uncle.


Passive = Subject + Be + P.P.

Participle = Noun + P.P.

Following our patterns above, here are some more examples:

  • Passive:

He was chosen to participate in the Olympics.

The man was injured in the fire.

The books are piled up in the corner.

  • Participle:

The player chosen for the team is the best.

The man injured in the accident went home.

The books stacked up in the room are mine.


After concentrating on structure and form, now we can now talk about meaning and function.


The Passive is used in these situations:

Situation # 1. It shifts (moves) the emphasis from the Doer of the action to the Receiver of the action.

Ex. The Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

Of course Leonardo da Vinci (the Doer of the action) is still a very important person: one of the greatest artists of all time. But in our sentence above, the Receiver of the action, the Mona Lisa, is the “center” or the more important in the situation.

The Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

Situation # 2. The Passive is used when the Doer is unimportant.

Ex. My car was fixed at the garage (by the mechanic).

The robbers were arrested (by the police).

In the next examples, talking about the exact Doers of the action (the mechanic / the police) isn’t necessary. And in some cases, it’s already clear to many people who the Doer is.

It’s enough to talk about the Receiver (my car / the robbers), which is the focus of the sentence anyway. In other situations, yes, the Doer of the action is important and we need to talk about this person, but not in some situations like those in our sentences above.

Situation # 3. The Passive is used when the Doer is unknown.

Ex. My wallet was stolen (by somebody).

In our last example, because it’s difficult to know the person who did the action, of course I can’t talk about that person in my sentence. I should talk especially about the item that I lost, which is more important in my sentence.

Function: Participle

Next we have the Participle.

Take a look at the following sentences:


I know the sick guy.

I know the guy who was injured in the game.

Adjective Clause
I know the injured guy.

I know the guy injured in the game.

Participial Phrase
The guy injured in the game was taken to the hospital.
Participial Phrase

If you think hard about our examples, you will realize that all 4 grammar structures (Adjective, Adjective Clause, Participle, & Participial Phrase) are very similar to each other in terms of function.

That’s right. All 4 grammar structures above are Modifiers. They describe the Noun next to them (whether before or after).

And now, here are more examples of Participles:

The employee selected for promotion will travel to Hawaii.

The books taken outside got wet in the rain.

The man living* next door is a dentist.

* Note: This is the second kind of Participle. The Participle comes in only 2 forms: the P.P. and the V+ing.

As you can see in our examples, the Participle acts as a Modifier in the sentence. It isn’t a Main Verb like the Passive.

So these are completely different:

The player was injured in the game. (= Verb / Passive)

The player injured in the game was taken to hospital. 
(= Participle / Modifier)

If you want to use a Participle in your sentence, you still need another Verb to become the Main Verb, because the Participle is just like an Adjective, not a Verb.

Hope You Learned Something!

Keep on learning !

P.S. If you'd like to learn more about Participles, just click the following links: 


  1. Dear Mon,
    I have a question. What is the difference between Adjective Clause and Participial Phrase.
    I see the difference in a structure (in Adjective Clauses there is missing BE and relative pronouns), but is there any difference in meaning? According to me there is no difference, so why do we have those two constructions (Participal Phrase is shorter).
    Thank you very much.

    Yours sincerely, Tommy

  2. Hi Tommy!

    That was an astute observation. Yes, the Adjective Clause and the Participial Phrase do share similar functions and structure. As a matter of fact, Participial Phrases are what we get when we reduce Adjective (and Adverbial) Clauses.

    Well, I'd say 2 constructions exist because their functions are not exactly the same. As you know, Adjective Clauses modify Nouns by adding restrictive or non-restrictive information. In a word, they tell us which or what kind of person or thing the speaker means.

    Although Participial Phrases also function as Adjectives that modify, they can be used to express simultaneous actions, sequential actions, reason etc.

    Participial Phrases are more often used in written English than in spoken English. In this, they are similar to non-restrictive Adjective Clauses.

    Hope this helps!


    1. Hi Mon!

      Thank you very much for your explanation. I hope, I get it. :)

      I was curious because I have learned just about Adjective Clauses.

      Thank you very much for your Blog. It is very useful.

      Have a good time.

  3. No prob, Tommy :-)

    Please feel free to ask me any other questions in the future.

    Good luck with your study. Keep on learning and see ya around!


Thanks for reading my Blog.

Your questions, comments, feedback etc. are always welcome ;-)

Any Questions?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...