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ESL Lesson: Passive Voice

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In this story you will see many examples of how the Passive Voice can be used. Here is the structure of the Passive Voice:

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subject + auxiliary verb (be) + main verb (past participle)

Sometimes a modal verb can be used before the auxiliary verb:

subject + modal verb (could)+ auxiliary verb (be) + main verb (past participle)

We use the passive when:

  • we want to make the active object more important
  • we do not know the active subject

Now read the short story and try to work out what the constructions in italics mean.


The house was built in the middle of the 18th century and some signs could still be found that it had once been a famous meeting place for people who liked playing card games. By the time it was bought by my aunt and uncle some two hundred years later it had been owned by a long list of different people whose names are recorded on the title deeds. As it is situated by the sea, it became a favourite place for various members of the family to visit. It also had an added attraction — it was haunted, at least so my uncle said.

To this day of course it never had been proved. The story according to my uncle was that at certain times of the day, incidentally at all times when the house was only occupied by him, a small figure appeared at the bottom of the stairs in the shape of an old lady and held firmly in her hands what appeared to be a walking stick. She waited a moment, looked up the stairs, climbed a few steps to check as if she was being watched and then suddenly she could no longer be seen.

At this stage in the story it must be pointed out that my uncle was a man blessed with a vivid imagination. Once he even convinced his wife shortly after they got married that he was hypnotized when they visited the theatre. This turned out to be his excuse for falling asleep because he was bored. She could not be persuaded. But he was quite definite about the little old lady. "You just wait" he used to say "till you see her. Then you will be convinced. " The trouble with the younger generation is that they refuse to believe anything unless it it is presented to them on a plate. He claimed that he was endowed with special psychic powers because he was the seventh son of a seventh son. That was a fact that couldn''t be disputed. Personally, I didn''t believe a word about this so-called ghost. But then when you are invited to someone''s house you have to be polite.

I had just finished at university and had a couple of weeks holiday before I started my first full-time job when I was invited by my aunt and uncle to stay for a few days at the famous haunted house. "You are given freedom of the house while you''re here", my uncle had said, "and you can carry out any investigations you like concerning our "house ghost" — that was how the old lady was referred to because I want you of all people to to be conviced of the authenticity of this apparition." Somehow I was a highly respected member of the family and my uncle firmly believed that my word was accepted. The first two days, no sign was given of the "ghostly" old lady. On the third day my aunt and uncle asked me if I wanted to come on a lengthy shopping expedition because their supplies now had been exhausted and they had to travel some twenty miles to the nearest town that had a supermarket. This ritual regularly was carried out once a month. I declined the offer as I had decided it was time for me to go for a swim in the sea. Before they left, meaningful glances were exchanged between my aunt and uncle as if they both expected to hear some news from me when they got back. As they left, my uncle turned and said, "You will be suprised at what happens, while we are away."

I went for my swim but the sea was very rough and I constantly was pushed onto the beach by the waves. I gave up in the end and made my way back to the house, got washed and dressed, had a bite to eat and sat on the most comfortable chair to watch television. After what seemed like a few minutes, I was aware of an unusual sound as if pieces of material were rubbed together. I got up from the chair and walked into the hall. I was quite taken aback with what confronted me. There, at the bottom of the stairs was the celebrated little old lady carrying her walking stick and holding a pack of cards. For some strange reason I wasn''t frightened at all by this apparition. I went up to her and quite calmly asked her, "Will you come in and join me in the sitting room." She too showed no sign of being disturbed by my casual invitation. "I should be delighted" she replied "and perhaps you could be persuaded to join me in a game of cards." We got on like a house on fire but strange as it may seem, the subject of ghosts or haunting wasn''t mentioned and we played one game of cards after the other as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I think I was dealt some terrible cards because I kept on losing and in the end my guest was obviously getting bored by the lack of competition. A little later she complained of tiredness and left the room.

When they returned, I told my uncle that the little old lady had made an appearance but I didn''t go into the card games and our little chat. He was overwhelmed by the news. It changed his life. Till his dying day he regaled all visitors with the story of the ghostly lady and then added with a broad grin, "It is not just me, you know, the story was verified by my nephew."

Well, I did spend a lovely holiday there, they were both very kind to me and no harm was done. You see it depended on the way «made an appearance» is interepreted. After my vigorous swim I''d sat down in front of the television and fallen asleep and well — I have to confess — I simply dreamt the whole thing.

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Next:ESL Lesson: Relative Pronoun

Author: Alan Townend

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