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Passives

Do you know how to use the passive voice to change the focus of a sentence?

Look at these examples to see how the passive voice is used.

A lot of olive oil is produced in Italy.
This book was written by Angela Davis.
The suspect will be released tomorrow.
This product has not been tested on animals.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1-B2: Passives: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

We use the passive voice to change the focus of the sentence.

My bike was stolen. (passive – focus on my bike)
Someone stole my bike. (active – focus on someone)

We often use the passive:

  • when we prefer not to mention who or what does the action (for example, it's not known, it's obvious or we don't want to say)
  • so that we can start a sentence with the most important or most logical information
  • in more formal or scientific writing.

How we make the passive

We make the passive using the verb be + past participle. We start the sentence with the object.

Avatar was directed by James Cameron.
Object + be + past participle

It is not always necessary to add who or what did the action.

My flight is cancelled.
Object + be + past participle

Only the form of be changes to make the tense. The past participle stays the same. Here are examples of the passive in its most common tenses.

Tense Example Structure
Present simple Alioli is made from oil, garlic and salt. is/are + past participle
Present continuous The hall is being painted this week. is/are being + past participle
Past simple John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. was/were + past participle
Past continuous The signs were being put up last week. was/were being + past participle
Present perfect Oranges have been grown here for centuries. have been + past participle
Past perfect When he got home, he found that his flat had been burgled. had been + past participle
Future simple The work will be finished next week. will be + past participle

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar B1-B2: Passives: 2

Language level

Intermediate: B1

Comments

Hello,
Many a times it becomes difficult to state whether past participle is used verbially(for passive voice construct) or used adjectivally. Example-He was rattled by the news. Here "rattled" can be taken to be an adjective although it fits the passive structure also.
Is there any way to draw a distinction or it has to be understood from the context?

Hello Bharati,

Obviously, only transitive verbs can be used in passive voice, so if the adjective/participle comes from an intranstive verb then it must be an adjective rather than a passive construction.

It's true, however, that it's often unclear if a sentence is a passive construction or simply [be + adjective]. I'm not sure it really matters, to be honest, as it's simply a question of nomenclature.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,
In your explanatory example-"My flight is cancelled" it (cancelled) can be interpreted both as passive verb as well as participle adjective ,if i understand correctly.

Dear Peter,
Even after having gone through the wikipedia link provided , my doubt about past participle used verbially in passive and as adjective construction remains.
I shall be grateful If you could clarify your website example"My flight is cancelled " As per my understanding, "cancelled" shows the state of flight and hence here it is used adjectivally. However, if it is cancelled by a hidden external agent (airlines), it becomes passive verb. Is there a way to differentiate the usage of past participle ?
Thanks

Hello Bharati

You could certainly call 'cancelled' an adjective here, but the point Peter was making is that it's inherently ambiguous. The exact meaning that is intended would be clear in a specific context.

I'm afraid there is no easy way to differentiate between a passive and 'be' + adjective without knowing the speaker's intention. Usually either the context makes the speaker's intentions clear or there is no significant difference in meaning (or both).

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Peter,
How do you explain my example sentence. Is it a passive voice sentence or rattled is used as participle adjective.
Thanks

Hello Bharati,

I would say that it is a passive structure. The presence of the by-phrase indicates that it is a passive construction.

THere is a good discussion of the difference between passives and participal adjectives, and when there is ambiguity, on the relevant wikipedia page. The section on stative and adjectival uses has a number of examples:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_passive_voice

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team