Passive Voice – Basic Modal Forms

The Passive Voice is a fundamental aspect of English grammar that every English language learner needs to master. It adds variety and sophistication to your writing and speech, especially in formal contexts. This tutorial will introduce you to the basics of passive voice with a particular focus on modal forms. Make sure you grasp each concept thoroughly as you progress through the tutorial.

What is Passive Voice?

In English, sentences are often constructed in the 'Active Voice', where the subject performs the action. However, when we want to emphasize the action and the object it is performed on, instead of who is performing it, we use the 'Passive Voice'. The action, represented by the verb in the sentence, effectively becomes the focus.

Basic Construction of the Passive Voice

The passive voice is typically constructed as follows: Object + verb ‘to be’ + past participle + (by + agent).


Active voice: John cleaned the house.
Passive voice: The house was cleaned (by John).

The agent ('John' in this case) is often omitted in passive voice sentences when it is not important or already understood from context, making 'The house was cleaned' a completely valid sentence.

Modal Verbs in Passive Voice

Often, we need to use modal verbs in passive voice sentences. Modal verbs include can, could, may, might, will, would, shall, should, must, ought to, and any verb form that expresses necessity, possibility, permission, or obligation.

General Rule for Modal Passive

The basic structure for a passive sentence with a modal verb is: object + modal + be + past participle


Active voice: They can finish the project on time.
Passive voice: The project can be finished on time.

Active: We must complete the task today.
Passive: The task must be completed today.

Understanding the Different Modal Verbs in Passive Voice

Let's further break down the use of different modals in the passive voice:

Can / Could

This is used to express capability or possibility. In the passive form, it focuses on the action rather than who can do it.

Active: I can bake a cake.
Passive: The cake can be baked.

Will / Would

Typically used to express future possibility or likelihood, will and would still maintain this connotation in the passive form.

Active: They will launch the product tomorrow.
Passive: The product will be launched tomorrow.

May / Might

These modals reflect a sense of possibility or probability, which remains the same in passive voice.

Active: He may call the meeting today.
Passive: The meeting may be called today.

Shall / Should

Shall and should denote a strong obligation or necessity. In the passive, the focus shifts from the doer of the action to the action itself.

Active: You shall follow the instructions.
Passive: The instructions shall be followed.

Must / Ought to

Again, these modal verbs express necessity. When used in the passive, the emphasis is on the necessary action.

Active: He must submit the report.
Passive: The report must be submitted.


Understanding any aspect of grammar, especially the passive voice, requires a lot of practice. Try converting active voice sentences with modal verbs into the passive voice and vice versa. This will help you get a better understanding and enhance your command over the English language.


In conclusion, understanding and using the passive voice effectively, especially with modal verbs, is a key skill in English. It allows you to put emphasis on an action or an object, rather than the person performing it. This tutorial provided a comprehensive examination of the passive voice and modal verbs. Keep practicing and soon you will master this essential aspect of English grammar.

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