Active and passive voice

Learn how to form the passive voice and do the exercises to practise using it.

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 Ahmed Iman,

All three forms are possible grammatically, but they have different meanings and only one fits the context.

I've got some of the cleverest students to prepare for the competition - this means that the preparation is a future activity or obligation

I've got some of the cleverest students preparing for the competition - this means that they are currently preparing; their preparation is in progress

I've got some of the cleverest students prepared - this means that the preparation has been done and they are now ready

As your example has a context in which 'they don't need preparation anymore' I think it is clear that the third option is the correct choice.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Sun, 29/11/2020 - 14:32

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I was expected to be a human....
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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sat, 28/11/2020 - 06:46

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Hello. What is the difference between the two sentences in the two pairs? 1.a) He is having a mechanic repair the car now. 1.b) He has a mechanic repairing the car now. 2.a) He was having a mechanic repair the car yesterday. 2.b)He had a mechanic repairing the car yesterday. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

When have is used in a causitive structure it is possible to use it with continuous aspect, so all of these sentences are grammatically correct.

With the adverb 'now', there is no difference between sentences 1a and 1b. Both describe a process which is in progress; the simple and continuous forms do not change this.

 

The second pair of sentences have some differences, though we really need a context to be sure of the meaning. Sentence 2a describes the person's intention, but does not make it clear whether or not the repair was done. Sentence 2b tells us that the repair began, but may or may not have been completed.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by NicolD on Wed, 11/11/2020 - 19:05

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Hi, Would you mind explaining me these examples? I had to turn sentence using personal and impersonal construction: 1. They thought he had been brave to do so. 1a. He was thought to have been brave to do so. 1b. It was thought that he had been brave to do so. 2.They believe he was working illegally. 2a. He is believed to have been working illegally. 2b. It is believed that he was working illegally. I do not understand why (in 1a.) the tense is changed from past perfect to present perfect and why (in 2a) the tense is changed from past continuous to present perfect continuous. It is written that personal construction is: subject+passive verb+ to-inf, so for this reason i thought that for example in 1a. should be 'he was thought to be brave to do so' Thank you for your answer :)
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 12/11/2020 - 10:33

In reply to by NicolD

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Hello NicoleID,

I think part of the problem here is that you are confusing two forms. In sentence 1a there is no present perfect. The construction 'be thought to...' is followed by an infinitive, but there are many infintive forms:

to work - infinitive

to be working - continuous infinitive

to have worked - perfect infinitive

to have been working - continuous perfect infinitive

etc.

In 1a, to have been is a perfect infinitive. The form is consistent with the pattern.

In 2a, to have been working is a continuous perfect infinitive. Again, it is consistent with the pattern.

If the normal infinitive had been used, the sentences would have been about the present; the perfect infinitive make the past time reference clear.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Wed, 11/11/2020 - 09:58

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Hello team. Could you please help me? Which sentence is correct to change the following sentence from active into passive voice? - They refused him a visa. (active) 1- He was refused a visa. 2- A visa was refused to me. 3- A visa was refused for me. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I think options 1 and 3 are correct. Option 2 does not sound correct to my ear.

However, as the subject in the original sentence is 'he' you should say 'him' rather than 'me'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MJEnglishLearner on Thu, 29/10/2020 - 13:57

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I am wondering that someone told me that time and place phrase should write before by+ subject. is it the right way to writ in passive form. Can u explain me please? Thank you

Hello MJEnglishLearner,

With questions like this it's generally helpful to give an example so we can be sure that we understand what you mean.

If I understand you correctly, you are asking about the order of phrases in passive voice sentences. For example:

The meeting was organised by our team on Saturday at 3pm.

The meeting was organised on Saturday at 3pm by our team.

Both of these are grammatically possible. I don't think there is any preference in terms of style and clarity.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 15:21

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I'm wondering in what situations and how do English speaking people say like this, 'No apologies are necessary'.

Hello Rafaela1,

This is something people say when, for example, you have apologised to them but they don't think you needed to apologise, though there are other possibilities depending on the context.

I've normally heard it in the singular ('no apology is necessary') and in speaking it's often used without the verb 'be' ('no apology necessary').

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AllyEnglish on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 08:46

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Hello there, Hope all is well. I found a few questions in a book where they ask to change a sentence from Passive Voice to Active Voice. They are confusing me a bit as they look like they are already in active form. 1. The maid is sweeping the broken glass pieces. 2. The police have solved most of the crimes this year. 3. Only a few of us attended the spiritual talk. 4. The gardener sweeps and mops the hall once a week. Appreciate the help :-)

Hello again AllyEnglish,

Yes, you are right -- those sentences are all written in the active voice already. Perhaps they got the instructions backwards.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sarahmh on Wed, 30/09/2020 - 08:41

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Hello, I'm stuck on something basic on passive and active. For present simple the active voice says 'I call' and the passive says 'I am called'. If I use the example I call her (active) and the passive I am called by her, the meaning changes. Can you explain how 'I a called' is the passive for 'I call'? thank you
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 01/10/2020 - 06:30

In reply to by sarahmh

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Hello sarahmh,

I'm afraid I'm not completely certain I understand your question, but I'll try to explain this.

When we change an active verb form into the passive without changing any other feature of the verb (person, number, tense, etc.), there is a change in meaning. Roughly speaking, the subject of the active verb becomes the object of the passive verb. 

In terms of the form, where a passive form always has a form of the verb 'be' in the appropriate tense (in your example, 'am') and a past participle form of the verb that carries the meaning (in your example, 'called'). This is just how passive verbs are formed in English (and many other Indo-European languages).

Does that help you?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, thank you for your response. I have a book where you fill in a chart and the active part say 'I call, she calls, it calls' etc and for the passive it has 'I am called, she is called' etc. I understand the 'I am called is passive' it just confuses me that I call (active) becomes I am called (passive) if you use them as an interchangeable example of how active becomes passive. Separately it shows an active voice and a passive voice but I don't see how for example 'I call him' becomes 'I am called by him' as the meaning changes. Maybe the chart just shows examples which are separate and not a passive voice for a particular sentence.

Hello again sarahmh,

I can see why you find that confusing and I agree that it could probably be represented in a clearer way, though it sounds to me as if the chart is representing the verb forms and not the meaning of the sentences.

It sounds to me as if you understand this grammar well, but if you have any other questions please feel free to ask us.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Snoring Queen on Mon, 12/10/2020 - 23:24

In reply to by sarahmh

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If you maintain the subject and just change its active or passive form the meaning definitely changes "I call" "I am called". We need to recombine the grammar subject. Active voice (AV), Passive voice (PV) AV: "I call" correct PV: "Someone is called by me" then... I call her. (AV) She is called by me. (PV) Extra: PV: "I am called" AV: "Someone calls me"

Submitted by ra on Mon, 21/09/2020 - 00:41

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1-architects design earthquake resistant buildings in San Francisco passive voice : the earthquake resistant building was designed by architects . 2-you must show your international driving license when you hire a car overseas. passive voice : the international driving license are showed when you hire a car overseas . am i right ?

Hello ra,

Those are almost correct. There are slightly different possible answers, but what I'd write is:

1. Earthquake-resistant buildings in San Francisco were designed by architects.

2. An international driving license must be shown when a car is hired overseas.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ra on Thu, 17/09/2020 - 10:10

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hello sir, how to change this active sentences to passive voice ? 1-we need production engineering skilss to develop production that are constantly envolving with new models . 2-at a factory, the workers roast the coffee bean in large commersial roasters. 3-each earthquake teaches engineers another way of coping and reducing the weight of buldings.

Hello ra,

1. Production engineering skills are needed to develop ...

2. At a factory, the coffee beans are roasted by the workers in ...

3. The engineers are taught another way of coping ...

But I wouldn't recomming you use the passive versions of sentences 2 or 3.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Raja Muhammad Bashir on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 19:52

In reply to by Kirk

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Should it not be " needed to be developed" ?

Hello Raja Muhammad Bashir,

'needed to be developed' is a grammatically correct phrase, but it would change the meaning to simply change that part of the sentence, and the remaining part of the sentence would also need some changing to adjust to that. 

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Abdul Azeez Ibrahim on Sat, 12/09/2020 - 07:32

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Dear Sir How to change the below sentence into Passive voice I avoid seeing him He avoided being seen/ He avoids being seen, Thanks in advance
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 12/09/2020 - 08:55

In reply to by Abdul Azeez Ibrahim

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Hello Abdul Azeez Ibrahim,

The original sentence is in the present (avoid) and there is no reason to change this when forming the passive construction. Thus, the second option (avoids) is better.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Saeed Alnaqbi on Fri, 11/09/2020 - 09:04

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Hello, What would be the sentence if I change it to passive tense. 1. The science behind consumerism makes people buy things without thinking. 2. People buy things that they don't actually need. Thanks
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Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 11/09/2020 - 14:48

In reply to by Saeed Alnaqbi

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Hello Saeed Alnaqbi,

People are made to buy things without thinking by the science behind consumerism.

Things that they don't actually need are bought by people.

I would not recommend you use either of those sentences in the passive voice, however.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 05:28

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The cake smells good. The car looks nice. Here, are *smell and look* stative verb as it is describing the state of the subject(cake and car)?

Hello Rsb,

Yes, those are stative verbs.

The most common types of stative verbs are as follows:

  • verbs of perception/sensation
  • verbs of cognition/emotion/attitude
  • verbs related to having or being
  • verbs related to location/position

Your sentences contain examples of verbs of perception/sensation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Tea

Submitted by Rsb on Wed, 02/09/2020 - 15:07

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Sir, Quasi passive voice - looks like non living thing perform something. 1. "Train is coming" Is it quasi passive voice in active form ? And what is the passive voice of that sentence ? 2. "Train looks nice"- is it also quasi passive voice in active form? And what is the passive voice of that sentence? Pls let us know.
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 02/09/2020 - 15:49

In reply to by Rsb

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Hello Rsb,

Sentence 1 is simply an active verb in the present continuous, with 'train' as the subject. Since 'come' is an intransitive verb, there is no way to use it in the passive.

The verb 'looks' in sentence 2 is a link verb and therefore also has no passive form.

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the term 'quasi-passive'.

By the way, both of the sentences are not correct in standard British English -- an article such as 'a' or 'the' is needed before 'train': 'A train is coming' or 'The train looks nice'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, How the train is supposed to perform the action as it is not a living being ? What types of sentences are they below where subject is not living being but still we presume that they are performing the action like human being. In British english, what we say that kind of sentences? 1. Battery will reach warehouse by 10th May. 2. The train is going. 3. The gates are closing.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 04/09/2020 - 09:02

In reply to by Rsb

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Hello Rsb,

It's entirely normal for an inanimate object to perform an action. It does not imply a decision or consciousness.

The wind blows.

The sun shines.

A volcano erupts.

 

Sometimes in English we describe inanimate objects as having their own will and power to decide on something. This is called anthropomorphism. For example:

My car refused to start this morning!

The computer won't open the file.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, Quasi passive voice means inanimate objects are doing something? Are they an example of quasi passive voice in active form? The wind blows. The sun shines. A volcano erupts. My car refused to start this morning! The computer won't open the file. A train is going. The gates are closing. Do we have quasi passive voice in passive form too?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 07/09/2020 - 07:38

In reply to by Rsb

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Hello Rsb,

Those sentences are not passive in any way. The fact the subject is inanimate does not change the active voice nature of the verbs.

 

Quasi-passive is not a term that is used in traditional grammar study and it is not universally accepted by grammarians. It describes forms which are ambiguous in terms of whether they are a passive form or an adjectival (past participle) form. 

For example:

The window was broken.

This could be a passive construction (...by the boy) or simply be + adjective (...but it isn't any more). Some use the term quasi-passive to describe this; personally, I don't find it a useful concept.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, "It should be destroyed." Could this be a passive construction (...by the boy) or simply be + adjective?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 08/09/2020 - 08:11

In reply to by Rsb

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Hello again Rsb,

It could be either. It's impossible to say without knowing the context.

 

If you are talking about what you expect the current situation to be, then it would probably be an adjective:

It should be destroyed. (because there was an earthquake/because that was the plan etc)

 

On the other hand, if you are talking about the future and giving advice then it would be a passive form:

It should be destroyed. (before it's too late/while we are able/before it collapses)

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks again sir! The cake smells good. The car looks nice. Here smell and look are stative verb as it is describing the state of the subject(cake and car)? Am I thinking correct?

Submitted by Juliana Abrantes on Wed, 08/07/2020 - 19:09

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Hello. How can I write these sentences in the active voice? 1. A lot of coffee is grown in Brazil. 2. The world's highest mountains are found in the Himalayas. Can I say? 1. It grows a lot of coffee in Brazil. 2. It finds the world's highest mountains in the Himalayas. If yes, are these phrases often used? Thank you for the help!
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 09/07/2020 - 07:25

In reply to by Juliana Abrantes

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Hello Juliana,

No, you can't rephrase in that way. You need to introduce the implied subject:

People grow a lot of coffee in Brazil.

We find the world's highest mountains in the Himalayas.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by VegitoBlue on Sun, 28/06/2020 - 09:24

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Is "love" as in "I love this" a stative verb? Can a stative verb be transitive? In "I love this", is love a transitive verb and "this" the object of the transitive verb "love"?

Hello magnuslin,

Yes, 'love' is a stative verb here, and it is also transitive (with 'this' as its object), as are many other stative verbs.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kapil Kabir on Thu, 25/06/2020 - 10:33

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Hello Sir, Sir I have a great confusion regarding the use of HOW word before an infinitive( specially the verbs after to like "learn, swim, know, teach etc.. ") For example 1) He don't know to swim. 2) He don't know how to swim. We know that the 1st one is incorrect and the 2nd one is correct. I want to know why we use "HOW" before an infinitive. What type of meaning does it convey. Please.