Avoid responsibility – Use the passive voice.

On January 27, 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan stated in his State of the Union Address;

‘And certainly it was not wrong to try to secure freedom for our citizens held in barbaric captivity. But we did not achieve what we wished, and serious mistakes were made in trying to do so. We will get to the bottom of this, and I will take whatever action is called for.’

He was referring to a scandal where the US was found to be selling weapon to Iran, its supposed enemy.

Since then ‘Mistakes were made’ has become and expression that is commonly used to avoid personal responsibility when something goes wrong. Governments, politicians and businesses all use do it and I have probably done the same without even realising.

In the phrase “mistakes” is framed in an abstract sense, with no direct reference to who made the mistakes.  If we wanted to use the active voice we would say ‘I made a mistake’ or ‘John made a mistake’

To form a passive sentence we need to follow this basic formula: Subject + to be (am/is/are) + Past Participle

Below are some more examples.

Tense

Subject

Verb

Object

Simple Present

Active:

Rita

writes

a letter.

Passive:

A letter

is written

by Rita.

Simple Past

Active:

Rita

wrote

a letter.

Passive:

A letter

was written

by Rita.

Present Perfect

Active:

Rita

has written

a letter.

Passive:

A letter

has been written

by Rita.

Future I

Active:

Rita

will write

a letter.

Passive:

A letter

will be written

by Rita.

Watch the video below for a demonstration of how to form the passive voice and then take a look at these exercises.

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