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Better Business English with the Passive Voice.

The passive voice can be a really useful structure in Business English for removing unnecessary information from our communication - it allows us to describe actions when it isn't really necessary to say who the action was completed by, or it is obvious who did it. A simple example would be;


Tracy the woman who works in finance and deals with the invoices paid the invoice last Friday”.

versus

The invoice was paid last Friday”.


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Look at the short text below, which I have written entirely in the active voice, and then in the passive voice to see the different forms the passive voice can take according to the most common tenses. Then I have an excercise where I need you to clean up several sentences into a more useful and concise form using the passive voice.


Updating a colleague on the progress of an order:


"Michael the internee placed the order on the 1st of August, the company we ordered the order from sent a confirmation that a delivery driver from the chosen delivery company would deliver the order within three days. On the 5th of August the order arrived. However, somebody from the delivery company had damaged it whilst it was being delivered. I personally and without help requested a replacement on the 6th of August. Tracy from finance has not yet paid the invoice, and she will pay the invoice when the new order arrives".


Now let's give the same information with the passive voice, excluding any examples of where it isn't useful to know who completed the action:


"The order was placed on the 1st of August, a confirmation was sent that the order would be delivered within three days. On the 5th of August the order arrived. However, it had been damaged in transit. A replacement was requested on the 6th August. The invoice has not yet been paid and it will be paid when the new order arrives".


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How to make the passive voice:

Remember, the passive voice is created by placing the direct object of the sentence in the first position and using the verb to be + the past participle of the main verb.


Direct Object + to be + Past Participle of the main verb + Rest of Sentence


Present Simple:

Active: The admin worker from the company posts deliveries every Wednesday.

Passive: Deliveries are posted every Wednesday morning.


Present Continuous:

Active: We are preparing the end of year report.

Passive: The end of year report is being prepared.


Present Perfect:

Active: We have not yet paid the invoice.

Passive: The invoice has not yet been paid .


Past Simple:

Active: Michael the internee placed the order on the 1st of August

Passive: The order was placed in the 1st August


Future Simple:

Active: We will pay the invoice when the new order arrives

Passive: The invoice will be paid when the order arrives


Past Perfect:

Active: somebody from the delivery company had damaged it whilst it was being delivered.

Passive: it had been damaged in transit


Would:

Active: They said, the company would deliver the order within three days

Passive: They said, the order would be delivered within three days


It:

(In this case the 'it' is not really doing anything, but the structure is very common).

Active: A lot of people expect that the new order will be late again.

Passive: It is expected that the new order will be late again.


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Excercise: Let's stick to the simple idea that any time we don't need to know who completed an action, or it is obvious who did it that a passive sentence would probably be a lot more concise. I would like you to re-write the following sentences into the passive voice to make them more appropriate for business communication. Be careful of the tenses used and whether there are any other opportunities to make the sentence clearer.


  1. We send deliveries every Tuesday.

  2. The repairperson is repairing the printer now.

  3. We have secured 300 new customers this week.

  4. Someone will return your call as soon as possible.

  5. The area manager fired the head of sales last week.

  6. The complaints manager will respond to your complaint within 5 days.

  7. The HR department will hold the interviews in two weeks time.

  8. I haven't decided who this work will be allocated to yet, but they will contact you before the end of the week.

  9. Somebody brought it to the HR departments attention that an unknown member of staff stole some office supplies from the cupboard.

  10. I'm really not certain who was working at that time, but they founded the company in 2001.

  11. I didn't get the persons name, but they told us that the company was going to make several people redundant.

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Answers:

  1. Deliveries are sent every Tuesday.

  2. The printer is being repaired now.

  3. 300 new customers have been secured this week.

  4. Your call will be returned as soon as possible.

  5. The head of sales was fired last week.

  6. You complaint will be responded to within 5 days.

  7. Interviews will be held in two weeks time.

  8. You will be contacted before the end of the week.

  9. It was brought to the HR departments attention that some office supplies were stolen from the cupboard.

  10. The company was founded in 2001.

  11. We were told that the company was going to make several people redundant.

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Understanding how to use Passive sentences is the first part of using them effectively, the second part is activating this into your everyday use of English, which is most effectively do this through the active use of English - if you would like to discuss how we can most effectively do this within a series of lessons then just get in contact to book a free strategy session - joel.white.english@gmail.com

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