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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Hello Shibasish, Both sentences are possible. You have two verb phrases in the sentence ('he hopes' and 'he can attain') and each can be passive. The 'by' phrase can be used with either or both of them: > It is hoped (by him) that a better grade can be attained (by him). ~ Whether the sentence represents good style is another question, of course. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Then, of course, I would very like to know which sentence will do the best that is which represents a good style. And why I was wondering about the question is because my textbook says that when I am asked to passive a sentence I have to do so to all of the clauses, of course if possible. So, I would very glad to learn about your opinion in this manner that is should I passive all the clauses or should I think of good style(which I want to be answered first)!!!
Hello Shibasish The appropriate style for language is dependent on the situation it's going to be used in, and for what purpose. So we can't really answer your question very well without knowing more about these two factors at the very least. But in general, most writers (as well as speakers) avoid the passive voice unless they want to shift the focus away from the subject for some reason. For example, a politician who doesn't consider herself responsible for a bad result could say 'mistakes were made' rather than 'my team made mistakes'. In the case you're talking about, I think the active is probably more appropriate. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Tue, 16/04/2019 - 12:37

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I'm not really sure the difference between "Would you like to be seated?" and "Would you like to take a seat?" What's the point to use passive voice in this case? Can anyone explain?? ( ⸝⸝•ᴗ•⸝⸝ )੭⁾⁾
Hello Rafaela1, The sentences contain different verbs, not only an active/passive difference. We generally use 'be seated' when we are given places according to a plan, such as at a wedding: 'The guests were seated with the family members on the left and friends on the right.' The phrase 'take a seat' simply means to sit down and is a polite way to say that someone does not have to stand. We might use this, for example, when someone visits our office. ~ Most often we would simply say 'Would you like to sit down?' ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Thank you for your helpful explanation, Peter! Yes, I understood! Actually, I heard a waitress in a drama saying "Would you like to be seated?" for a reserved seat which was given places as you say. My question was solved! ゚☆,。・:*:・゚★o(´▽`*)/♪Thanks♪\(*´▽`)o゚★,。・:*:・☆゚

Submitted by rosario70 on Tue, 16/04/2019 - 11:40

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Good Morning.I would like if there is difference among these phrases : 1) we are lost but we will have us told the way to get there 2) we are lost but we Will make us told the way to get there .3) we are lost but we Will have been told the way to get there. I Wish you all the best.
Hello rosario70, I'm afraid none of those sentences appear to make sense. The verb forms are confused but apart from that the phrase 'we tell us' (in various forms) suggests someone is giving themselves information, which is an odd concept. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Sun, 14/04/2019 - 07:38

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Hello Sir This sentence is from a print out of BBC learning English / BBC world service 'He was being treated for depression when he won the lottery.' I think this a typing error ; 'lost' is the right word but not 'won' I am I correct? I am I right? Please let me know. Thank you. Best regards Lal
Hi Lal In the end, it of course depends on what they meant to say or whatever was true for that situation. Both 'won' and 'lost' are grammatically correct here, though we don't usually talk about 'losing' the lottery, as most people, however much they may hope to, don't really expect to win it. I'm not very familiar with the research on this, but several times I've read that people who win large amounts of money actually end up more depressed than they were before they had all the money. In any case, this sentence is about his state at the time he won. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Akash Rathore on Fri, 05/04/2019 - 06:52

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Please help me clarify Which one is correct? Johnny is being interrupted because he has perpetrated heinous crime. Or Johnny is being interrogated because a heinous crime has been perpetrated by him.
Hello Akash Rathore, The verb in the first sentence should be 'interrogated' rather than 'interrupted', and both sentences should have 'a' before heinous. The choice between active and passive is really on of style as both are grammatically correct. In my view, the active version is much more likely and has a better style in most contexts. Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by thyngoc1985 on Fri, 01/03/2019 - 06:29

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Dear The LearnEnglish Team Please help me. Which one is correct? 1. The car hasn't been sold by John yet. 2. The car hasn't been sold yet by John.

Hello thyngoc1985

When 'yet' is used as an adverb, it usually comes at the end of a sentence, so 1 is better.

Actually, unless it's important to mention that John is the one selling the car, it would be much more common to just say 'The car hasn't been sold yet'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AFS on Wed, 20/02/2019 - 21:59

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Hi there. What is the negative form of a passive voice sentence like: "The exercises have to be done." Is it, "The exercises don't have to be done"?

Hi AFS,

There are two possibilities:

The exercises don't have to be done.

The exercises have to be not done.

 

The first means there is no obligation – it's fine if they are not done.

The second, which is an unusual form but still quite correct means they must not be done. We would usually choose the form must not be rather than have to be not, but it is a correct form.

 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by dipakrgandhi on Wed, 13/02/2019 - 15:32

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Sir, Please bear with me if my question looks long. I always ask very short questions, but this is to help my son with his exam preparation. This is the question on change of narration in one book : When they had assembled in front of him , he said ," When I asked you yesterday if you were happy with your lives, all of you said you were contented and did not need anything more. Yet, today I can see the sadness in your faces when you had to leave behind the riches you had gathered in my garden. If you were really happy with your lives, why did you gather the jewel fruits, and why are you so sad now? " The answer given in the book is : When they had assembled in front of him he said that when he asked them the previous day whether they were happy with their lives, all of them had said that they were contented and needed nothing more. He added that yet he could see that day the sadness in their faces when they had to leave behind the riches they had gathered in his garden. He further asked that if they were really happy with their lived why they had gathered the jewel fruits and why were so sad that then. I have few doubts about this answer : 1)For 'I asked you' : It should be he had asked them ... in place of he asked them. 2) for ' if you were happy ' : It should be whether they had been happy - in place of whether they were happy. 3) For ' you were contented ' : It should be they had been contented - in place of they were contented. 4) For ' if you were really happy ... ' : It should be whether they had been really happy - in place of whether they were really happy. Please share your view and bear with me if it is a long post.
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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Wed, 28/11/2018 - 19:41

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Could you please help me? Scientists had ten students (move - moving) into a house with a garden. Are both of them correct? If so, Is there a difference in meaning? Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Both are indeed possibly correct, though the second one is quite unusual. The first one is a causative structure -- follow the link to see more examples of this. The second could possibly be used to describe, for example, a stage in some kind of social science experiment, but again, this would be quite unusual and perhaps best expressed another way.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Siuyang on Tue, 13/11/2018 - 04:06

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Dear LearnEnglish Team, I am confused with where to put the "by xxx" in the following sentences. 1. The circus boss pays money to the driver. A: Money is paid by the circus boss to the driver. B: Money is paid to the driver by the circus boss. 2. Helen's mum invites us to Helen's birthday party every year. A: We are invited to Helen's birthday party by Helen's mum every year. B. We are invited by Helen's mum to Helen's birthday party every year. What are the rules to follow in deciding its position? Many thanks, Siuyang

Hello Siuyang,

The most common position for the by-phrase is at the end of the sentence, so the most natural options would be as follows:

Money is paid to the driver by the circus boss.

We are invited to Helen's birthday party every year by Helen's mum.

 

Sometimes putting the by-phrase at the end separates it too far from the verb, and then we prefer to move it earlier. Thus the second sentence might also be:

We are invited to Helen's birthday party by Helen's mum every year.

 

It is possible to put the by-phrase in other positions, as in your examples, when we want to emphasise it for some reason. For example, if it were surprising or important for some reason that it is Helen's mum who invites us then we might say:

We are invited by Helen's mum to Helen's birthday party every year.

 

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Peter. Thanks very much for your very clear explanation. Cheers, Siuyang

Submitted by Ataur Rahman on Sun, 28/10/2018 - 04:55

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When to use Passive Voice?

Submitted by Lal on Fri, 28/09/2018 - 09:11

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Hello Sir Thank you very much for giving me clear answer to my last question under active voice and passive voice. The sentence given below I have copied from a website. ' What is grown in these fields? The verb 'grown' is transitive or intransitive. I would like to know whether the above question is passive or not?. For example if I write: 1)'What is grown in these fields by farmers? Is it right to say:2) 'What do farmers grow in these fields? What I would like to know from you? Is the question one passive and the question two is the active voice of it? Please let me know. Thank you. Regards Lal

Hi Lal,

Many English verbs can be used both transitively and intransitively, and 'grow' is one of them -- this is what [I] or [T] or [I or T] means after each dictionary entry (follow the link to see what I mean). 

Yes, in 1, 'grow' is transitive -- any verb in the passive must be transitive, as intransitive verbs aren't used in the passive voice. And yes, 2 is the closest version of 1 in the active voice.

Good work!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ataur Rahman on Mon, 10/09/2018 - 17:17

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"What class does he read in?" - What is the passive voice of the active voice? Is it possible to transfer it into passive? Explain, please.

Hello Ataur Rahman,

Passive voice is only possible when we have a transitive verb, meaning a verb which has a direct object. Your sentence does not contain such a verb and so no passive is possible.

A more natural way to say this, I think, would be to use 'study' instead of 'read', or to simply say 'What class is he in?' Neither of these sentences have passive forms either.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Mansoor Banglani on Sun, 09/09/2018 - 12:33

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Can this sentence be changed into passive: Flowers have grown all over the field.

Hello Mansoor Banglani,

'Grow' here is an intransitive verb (it has no object) and so no passive voice is possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Prap on Fri, 07/09/2018 - 13:50

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I wanted to know If we can turn the following sentences into the passive : (i) I wanted to do that a week ago. (ii) What will he think, if we are late again? It is taught that intransitive verbs have no passive counterparts.In the dictionary entries for 'want' and 'think' both are described as being transitive and intransitive. I, therefore, cannot decide whether 'want to' (in sentence 1) and 'think' (in the main clause of sentence 2) can be used in the passive or not. Please, help me out. Thank you in advance!

Hi Prap,

Neither 'want' nor 'think' are intransitive verbs because they can both take an object ('I want some tea', 'I think thoughts'). That said, it is a bit unusual to use them passively. You can say 'This child is wanted' or 'It is thought that', but these are not used in a general context as an alternative to the active voice.

You could make the second clause of (i) passive and get a natural-sounding sentence: 'I wanted that to be done a week ago'. A passive version of (ii) ('What will be thought if we are late again?'), however, is very strange indeed, precisely because this kind of question is focusing on the person who does the thinking, and that person is de-emphasised in the passive voice.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by fernandoricagno on Fri, 22/06/2018 - 01:21

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Really , I cannot understand this example of passive voice . Someone sent her a cheque for a thousand euros >> She was sent a cheque for a thousand euros. I understood that should be A cheque for 1000 euros was sent to her . Please could you help me . Thanks

Hello fernandoricagno,

Give is an example of a very with two objects, one direct (her in your example) and one indirect (a cheque). This verb can form active sentences in two ways (I'll simplify your example to make the explanation clearer):

1 - Paul sent a cheque to her.

2 - Paul sent her a cheque.

 

The passive form is different for each:

1 - A cheque was sent to her (by Paul)

2 - She was sent a cheque (by Paul)

 

You can read a detailed explanation of why this is the case on this page if you're interested in the grammatical justification.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sandyA on Sat, 19/05/2018 - 06:06

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is it correct to use "Issue is arisen..."

Hello sandyA,

I think two changes are needed. First of all, we would not use 'is' here but (depending on the context) you could say has arisen. Second, you would need an article so you would say either an issue or the issue, again depending on the context.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by gusanodvr on Wed, 16/05/2018 - 00:25

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Hi!!!! Can someone help me know if my answers in this exercise are correct? 1.- We recycle 40 per cent of our paper. Passive: 40 per cent of our paper is recycled by us. 2.- We select candidates bases on their experience and qualifications. Passive: Candidates are selected by us based on their experience and qualifications. 3.- In 2000, companies produced 101 million bicycles and 41 million cars worldwide. Passive: 101 million bicycles and 41 million cars were produced by companies worldwide, in 2000. 4.- The USA grows 40 per cent of al corn. Passive: 40 per cent of all corn is grown by the USA. 5.- In the 1998, the USA imported $4 billion worth of fruit. Passive: $4 billion worth of fruit was imported by the USA, In 1998. 6.- In 1993, people spent $2 billion on exercise equipment in the USA. Passive: $2 billion were spent by people on exercise equipment in the USA, In 1993. 7.- Australian universities enrolled 600,000 students in 2005. Passive: 600,000 students were enrolled by Australian universities in 2005.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 16/05/2018 - 07:21

In reply to by gusanodvr

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Hi gusanodvr,

I'm afraid we don't provide this kind of service. We're happy to provide help and explanations of our own materials, or to help where we can with more general questions about the language or culture, but we don't check materials from elsewhere. If we tried to do this then we would end up doing our users' tests and homework for them, which is not our role. In any case, we are a small team here and we simply don't have the resources to provide this kind of service.

If the exercise is from a book then a key should be provided. If a teacher gave it to you then the teacher should check it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Amanda on Sat, 21/04/2018 - 03:40

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Hi Sir, May I know if the structure of the following two sentences are acceptable. 1) He was scolded for being late by the teacher yesterday. 2) He was scolded by the teacher for being late. Is "for being late" considered as an object or purpose? Thank you.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 21/04/2018 - 07:14

In reply to by Amanda

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Hi Amanda,

Both sentences are fine. The position of the phrase for being late is flexible.

The phrase is an example of a prepositional phrase. This is made up of a preposition (for) and an object (being late). Prepositional phrases can have adjectival or adverbial functions in the sentence and in your example it has an adverbial function.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, Thank you so much. Amanda
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Submitted by Prap on Mon, 02/04/2018 - 19:56

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Dear sir, Would you mind telling me which of the following sentences you would prefer and why? (i). I have a lot of work to do. (ii) I have a lot of work to be done. Thank you in advance.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 03/04/2018 - 06:50

In reply to by Prap

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Hello Prap,

Neither sentence is incorrect but the first sentence sounds more natural to me. The passive form is more often used with 'there' as the subject. I think these three forms are most likely here:

I have a lot of work to do

There is a lot of work to do

There is a lot of work to be done.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Arvind Kumar Singh on Sun, 11/03/2018 - 16:40

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The goods have been replaced last night by the grocer. Weather this sentence is right or wrong? If it is right then what will be active of the sentence .

Hello Arvind Kumar Singh,

The verb in this sentence should be in the past simple ('were replaced') instead of the present perfect ('have been replaced') since the action took place in a finished past ('last night').

The active voice of the sentence with the past simple would be 'The grocer replaced the goods last night'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MilaTong on Thu, 01/03/2018 - 15:30

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Can I say "I give him some money" as an active sentence? It doesn't sound correct to me but my school wrote it on the board to be changed into passive voice.

Hello MilaTong,

Yes, you can say that. It is a grammatically correct sentence.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Arvin2017 on Thu, 08/02/2018 - 05:38

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Dear Sir, Is there any difference in meaning between these two sentences : The box must have been dropped. The box must have got dropped. Regards, Arvin