Active and passive voice

Level: beginner

Transitive verbs have both active and passive forms:

active   passive
The hunter killed the lion. > The lion was killed by the hunter.
Someone has cleaned the windows. > The windows have been cleaned.

Passive forms are made up of the verb be with a past participle:

  be past participle  
English is spoken all over the world.
The windows have been cleaned.  
Lunch was being served.  
The work will be finished soon.
They might have been invited to the party.

If we want to show the person or thing doing the action, we use by:

She was attacked by a dangerous dog.
The money was stolen by her husband.

Active and passive voice 1

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Active and passive voice 2

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Active and passive voice 3

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Level: intermediate

The passive infinitive is made up of to be with a past participle:

The doors are going to be locked at ten o'clock.
You shouldn't have done that. You ought to be punished.

We sometimes use the verb get with a past participle to form the passive:

Be careful with that glass. It might get broken.
Peter got hurt in a crash.

We can use the indirect object as the subject of a passive verb:

active   passive
I gave him a book for his birthday. > He was given a book for his birthday.
Someone sent her a cheque for a thousand euros. >

She was sent a cheque for a thousand euros.

We can use phrasal verbs in the passive: 

active   passive
They called off the meeting. > The meeting was called off.
His grandmother looked after him. > He was looked after by his grandmother.
They will send him away to school. > He will be sent away to school.
Active and passive voice 4

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Active and passive voice 5

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Level: advanced

Some verbs which are very frequently used in the passive are followed by the to-infinitive:

be supposed to be expected to be asked to be told to
be scheduled to be allowed to be invited to be ordered to

John has been asked to make a speech at the meeting.
You are supposed to wear a uniform.
The meeting is scheduled to start at seven.

Active and passive voice 6

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Active and passive voice 7

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Submitted by S.Umashankar on Thu, 05/11/2015 - 07:21

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Hi, All these days, I have been of the opinion that perfect continuous of all three tenses and future continuous (present/ past/ future) do not have passive forms but in your site on active and passive I noted all the forms said above do have passive. Is it accepted in the standard English and practiced by Native English speakers in writing? Please explain.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 05/11/2015 - 09:09

In reply to by S.Umashankar

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Hi S.Umashankar,

It is perfectly possible to use passive voice with continuous forms. As an aside, i would not use 'tense' to describe all of these - English has only two tenses (past and present), with various forms used to talk about the future including present continous, present simple, modal verbs etc.).

When something is in the process of completion, for example, we can say:

It is being done.

If we want to describe the same situation in the future then we can say:

It will be being done.

If we want to describe the same situation in the future, but looking back from a further point in the future then we can say:

It will have been being done.

However, as you can see these forms can get quite long, with multiple auxiliary verbs making them clumsy and inelegant. We tend to avoid overlong verb structures like this, preferring to use a simpler form such as an active form or an alternative phrasing.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by S.Umashankar on Sat, 07/11/2015 - 05:29

In reply to by S.Umashankar

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Hi Peter, I am thankful to you for the great, detailed explanation about active/ passive which I was a bit confused. Regards S.Umashankar

Submitted by Moosa_Hosseini on Wed, 04/11/2015 - 05:50

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Hello, I have difficulty with the passive form of verb spend. look at the sentence bellow: 1.He's spent over an hour looking for the pen that he lost. but I found this structure "spend time doing sth" in Longman dictionary. then we can say: 2. He spent over an hour ... what is the difference between 1 and 2? I think sentence No. 2 sounds more natural because when we are looking for something we allocate time deliberately in order to a find the lost thing.

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 04/11/2015 - 06:23

In reply to by Moosa_Hosseini

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Hello Moosa_Hosseini,

Neither of these sentences is a passive form. The first sentence has a present perfect verb ('He has spent') and the second has a past simple form ('He spent'). Neither is incorrect.

The difference between the two is whether the action is seen as something which has a current result such as the man being tired or frustrated (sentence 1) or is seen as something in the past which is finished an no longer relevant (sentence 2).

For more information on these forms take a look at our sections on the present perfect and past simple in the Verbs part of the English Grammar section.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

thank you Peter for your prompt response. my mistake was that I thought "he's spent" is the abbrevation for "he is spent" which does not make sense in this case. It could be and in this sentense It must be considered as the short form of "He has spent". Regards, Moosa

Submitted by Darshan Sheth on Fri, 23/10/2015 - 03:16

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Hello sir, Can every transitive verb be changed into the opposite voice? If someone says "It is time to do your duty.", can this/these type of sentences be also changed to the opposite voice?

Hello Darshan Sheth,

I would say no because some verbs would probably sound very unnatural if used in the passive voice. The sentence you ask about could be rendered as 'It is time for your duty to be done', but I can't imagine this would be appropriate in most contexts.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by TriKhoa on Thu, 22/10/2015 - 01:31

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Hello! I have a question about the position of adverbs of place and time in the passive voice. Do they stand before or after by + agent? Thank you in advance for your help.

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 22/10/2015 - 07:26

In reply to by TriKhoa

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Hello TriKhoa,

This really depends on the context and on what you want to emphasise. If you give us an example, we can help you with it. Another idea would be to search the internet for tutorials on the passive voice and then to look at the example sentences.

By the way, there's some general information about this topic – though I'm afraid it won't help much in the case of the passive voice with an agent – in our Adverbials section.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maria Veneri on Sun, 11/10/2015 - 09:14

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Hello, I had a question about the passive voice in this sentence: "without a lock your bike could get stolen". Is it also possible to say "without a lock your bike could be stolen"? Do the two sentences have the same meaning? Does the sentence "your bike could be stolen" have two meanings? 1) someone could steal your bike 2) maybe your bike it's stolen (=you bought a stolen bike) Many thanks in advance. Maria

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 12/10/2015 - 22:29

In reply to by Maria Veneri

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Hello Maria,

The answer to all of your questions is 'yes'. Well done - it's clear you understand this well.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aceling on Sat, 03/10/2015 - 06:23

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Hi I still do not really understand in this topic. As I saw many sentence using be + ed form I not sure it is passive anot ? According to what I know passive voice is the subject (agent) was not important. And use be +past participle to form passive sentence. Can any teacher help me to verify the sentence I confused is it in passive voice? As there have subject (agent) without adding by. or what form is this? 1) Karen is relieved that she has passed all her mid-year exam. 2) The girl is disappointed at the poor result 3) Both of you and your husband are invited to dinner. Here my doubts, hope my doubts can be Solve.

Hi aceling,

The -ed form is used for the past participle, which is used in passive forms, but it is also used to form many adjectives. In your sentences, the first and second are examples of adjectives, not passive forms. The third sentence is an example of a passive form.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lisandra Muñoz on Wed, 16/09/2015 - 11:13

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Hello. Is this question right?: "How is ended a line of code in an Arduino program?" Or should be..."How is a line...ended?" Thanks

Hello Lisandra,

The most natural-sounding way to say it (to my ears) is: 'How do you end a line of code in Arduino?', but your second idea is better than the first if you want to use one of those two options.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ALSYED on Sun, 13/09/2015 - 09:06

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sir i had asked a question about regular and irregular verbs but i have not received its reply yet?

Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 13/09/2015 - 18:31

In reply to by ALSYED

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Hello ALSYED,

There are many reasons that we sometimes don't answer comments right away. First of all, please keep in mind that we are a small team with a lot of other work. Responding to comments is just one part of our work, which means that it sometimes takes us longer to do that.

Sometimes the questions we get are very general and would require a long time for us to answer. Especially when a simple search of our site (note the Search box on the right) or of the internet would give an answer, we often don't reply. For example, your other comment asking about prepositions is one that you can find loads of resources on by doing an internet search, whereas for us to reply would take time that we simply don't have.

If your comment about regular and irregular verbs is similarly general, I'd suggest you make it more specific. But first I'd suggest you read our Help page, where there are some guidelines on the kinds of questions we answer.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by naaka on Sun, 23/08/2015 - 14:08

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Hello there, 'Fast and Furious is (showing or showed) in every theater. Should it be showing or showed? Thank you.

Hello naaka,

In most contexts it would be 'showing'. It is something of an idiomatic use which we do not see in other contexts, so a play is 'being performed' and an art exhibition is 'being shown', but a film is 'showing'.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by hardik emperor on Sat, 15/08/2015 - 10:21

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please tell me difference between he was not worried he did not worry which one is correct ? and why

Hello hardik emperor,

Both of those sentences are correct. The first describes the person's state of mind and the second his activity. In most contexts either can be used.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SooTW on Thu, 16/07/2015 - 13:57

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HI, Could you please tell me whether those 2 sentences are both correct? if both are correct, what are the differences in meaning between the two? 1. Johh had been asked to make a speech at the meeting. 2. John was asked to make a speech at the meeting. Cheers, Soo.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 16/07/2015 - 22:25

In reply to by SooTW

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Hello SooTW,

Yes, both sentences are correct. The difference is a question of verb form: sentence 1 is an example of the past perfect passive, which sentence 2 is an example of the past simple. The difference, and which would be appropriate, is dependent on the context in which they are used. To see which contexts each would be used in see the appropriate pages in our verbs section. After you've read those we'll be happy to answer any specific questions you have.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hi Peter. Thanks for your prompt reply. I had read the verbs section you referred above (not sure if I should use "have" and "had" here. Please correct me if I make grammatical mistakes in my question.) But I am still quite not sure if I get the correct idea. Please correct me if I am wrong. IF the context is something like "John was very good at speaking" then connect the sentence with "so he had been asked to make a speech at the meeting". However, if it is "John is very good at speaking", then proceed with "so he was asked to make a speech at the meeting". Am I on the right track? Please help me. Thanks Regards, Soo

Hi SooTW,

These are actions are not located in different times. Being very good at speaking is something which is always true as it is a characteristic, not an action. Therefore it does not happen before or after another event; it is just a permanent state. We would use the past simple for this:

John was very good at speaking so he was asked to make a speech at the meeting.

If we make it an action then we can use different forms. For example:

John had given a very good talk last week so he was asked to make a speech at the meeting.

[past perfect > past simple; the past perfect is earlier than the past simple and influences it]

John gave a very good talk last week so he has been asked to make a speech at the meeting.

[past simple > present perfect; the past simple is earlier than the present perfect and influences it]

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Prettytarteel on Wed, 15/07/2015 - 17:19

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hello can you please change this sentence in to passive voice Tell him not to walk in the sun & Play with good girls Please also explain how you changed the sentence

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 16/07/2015 - 06:20

In reply to by Prettytarteel

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Hello Prettytarteel,

This looks like it could be homework – it'd be better for you to do it! But I'll give you a few hints.

Only transitive verbs can be used in the passive voice. In your first sentence, 'tell' is transitive but 'walk' is not. In any case, both sentences are essentially imperative forms (i.e. commands). Commands are neither active nor passive, so changing them to the passive is problematic.

I hope this helps you.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Syam Kumar on Fri, 10/07/2015 - 06:34

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Hello experts, Is it mandatory to use the preposition [ to,by or from] with verbs when they are used passively? For example : The data for the study are abstracted from hospital records. The bail out package was offered to Greece by the donor countries. She is married to a wealthy industrialist. Do there any exception to this rule?

Hello Syam Kumar,

The prepositions here are more to do with the verb than the active or passive voice. For example, we can make the sentences active voice and still have the prepositions:

We abstracted the data for the study from our hospital records.

The donor countries offered the bailout package to Greece.

The last example is not really a passive form, but an adjective. You can use 'marry' as a verb but it is an action - getting married - not the state of being married.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mirandafrost1009 on Wed, 01/07/2015 - 16:09

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Hello!Sir Kirk or Peter…… Are there passive voice constructions for present perfect continuous tense,past perfect continuous tense?If there are,can u explain me with examples?

Hello miranda,

It's certainly possible to generate a passive construction in a perfect continuous tense (e.g. 'The room has (or: had) been being painted', but these sound awkward enough that people would generally avoid using them. Most of the time, most people would probably prefer an active sentence; if the subject is unknown, then you could use indeterminate 'they' as a subject, e.g. 'They've been painting'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by misam on Sun, 28/06/2015 - 09:56

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Hello Peter, I really DO NOT want to investigate something special in English or a specific way to cram pieces of grammar in my sentences,it was just a question needed a reliable answer.If it bothers you,I am sorry.BUT I thought teachers should be more kind as well as patient with foreign student who don't know what is what in English,and also, the tone of saying words ,sometimes, might devastate all the inspiration someone has to learn. Best wishes Misam

Hello misam,

We often get questions that ask for answers that are quite unnatural, or even not correct, and I think this is what Peter was referring to. In addition, most current language methodology, which we are all trained in, places an emphasis on learning how to use a language rather than perform syntactic transformations of the sort your question seemed to require. We recognise that there are many different methods and everyone learns differently, but our purpose here at LearnEnglish is to help users make use of the site, which is set up to help you to learn how to use the site to improve your ability to use English. For this reason, this sort of question isn't really the kind of question we answer regularly. We're happy to help with that sort of question from time to time, but not regularly, especially from the same user.

We certainly apologise if your feelings were hurt – it was not at all our intention. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by misam on Fri, 26/06/2015 - 12:32

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hello, would you please change the following sentence into passive one.Since the time is not mentioned in the sentence, present perfect must be used and ''could" can not be used. this is the sentence: scientists have been able to found some ways to treat cancer. thanks in advance best wishes

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 26/06/2015 - 14:16

In reply to by misam

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Hi misam,

What do you think? Change the subject ('some ways to treat cancer') into the subject and transform the verb as explained above. Here it would probably be best to ignore the verb 'to be able to' and just use the main verb 'find'. We'll be happy to correct any mistakes in your version.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mirandafrost1009 on Fri, 19/06/2015 - 13:06

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Hello. Sir Kirk! ''The workers will have dug a new well by the end of this month.'' How should I change this sentence to passive?

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 19/06/2015 - 13:23

In reply to by mirandafrost1009

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Hello mirandafrost1009,

You need to take the direct object of the sentence ('a new well') and make it the subject of the verb in the same time but in a passive form (by adding the verb 'be') in the new sentence. The verb 'will have dug' above comes from the verb 'dig' and is used in the future perfect. Then, if you want to include the subject of the original sentence ('the workers'), you can include it in the passive sentence after the word 'by'. The adverbial phrase 'by the end of this month' should remain unchanged in your new sentence.

There I've described all the basic steps you need to follow to make the passive sentence. Now why don't you try it – post your answer here and we'll confirm or correct it.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manthan228 on Thu, 18/06/2015 - 20:21

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simple present tense 1) People are prefer to go the cinema Above sentence right for "present tense" But for "simple past tense" below sentence is wrong If i have removed "were" then sentence is right. why below sentence wrong ? 1) People were preferred to go the cinema please help me why above sentence wrong for simple past sentence. Thanks in advance.

Hello marthan228,

I have answered this question on another page for you. Please post questions once only! We try to answer them as quickly as we can and posting the same question more than once simply slows the process down.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by misam on Thu, 11/06/2015 - 14:06

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Hello again Kirk and Peter, Could I use "be able to" in passive voice? and does it sound native? for example,a lot of buildings have been able to be built or this park will be able to be replaced with a mall. or even a combination of passive and negative form;for example,a lot of buildings have been able not to be built here. I don't know how to say thank you,both. Peter I am really thankful for amending my mistake that behavior is uncountable.

Hello misam,

That's not a natural construction. We would rather use a construction like 'It is possible to...'. For example:

It has been possible to build a lot of buildings

It will be possible to replace this park with a mall

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by PamelaO on Sat, 06/06/2015 - 05:08

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i don't know why the following sentence is incorrect. The attached invoice is not yet paid.....(it means we do not settle the attached inovice) thanks

Hello Pamela,

This looks correct to me, though perhaps whoever found an error here prefers 'has not yet been paid', which is another probably more common way of saying the same thing.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Cesar98 on Mon, 01/06/2015 - 11:44

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Is this a right sentence? "He was given a book by me for his birthday" If not, could you correct it for me? I want to mention that "It's given by me" and "for his birthday"

Hello Cesar98,

That is grammatically correct – good work – but please know that it's quite unlikely that anyone would say this. Most of the time, we use the active voice: 'I gave him a book for his birthday'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by misam on Tue, 26/05/2015 - 08:12

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Hello fortunately or unfortunately,I am used to using passive voice much more than active voice either in writing or speaking. I don't know whether this style is fine or not. would you please give me some advice to get to ideal use of passive voice. I appreciate you in advance