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. has/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

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Submitted by Laura Oliva on Mon, 01/03/2021 - 20:20

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Which sentence in passive is correct? Active: There have been reports of children stealing from the school cafeteria Passive 1: Children have been reported to be stealing from the school cafeteria Passive 2: Children have been reported stealing from the school cafeteria. Thank you.

Hello Laura Olivia,

I think the first sentence is the best option, but the reason is rather complex.

 

First of all, we should note that the question here is not really about passive forms, but rather about the difference between these two constructions:

1. report sb to be + verbing

2. report sb verbing

You could rewrite your examples using 'People have reported...' and still use either form; the fact a passive form is used in your examples does not change the question of which of these forms is used.

 

I'm going to use a different context for the sake of clarity, and then we'll go back to your context for comparison.

The form report sb to be + verbing has the meaning 'we have information about the person's activity'. For example:

Someone reported him to be working on a new book.

He was reported to be working on a new book.

> There is information that he is working on a new book.

 

The form report sb + verbing has the meaning 'officially complain about someone while they are engaged in an activity'

For example:

Someone reported him working on a new book.

He was reported working on a new book.

> Someone complained (to the police, for example) while he was writing a new book. This complaint could be about anything - it does not have to be related to the book-writing activity.

 

Now, it is possible to see the form report sb + verbing as simply omitting 'to be', but I think this leads to ambiguity, which we generally try to avoid. This is why I think example 1 is the best option.

 

With reference to your context, I think the context is sufficiently clear that there is very little chance of ambiguity. Reporting theft is an expected action, so the sentence would be immediately understood. Thus, while the first example is better in my view, in this particular context I think the second is also acceptable.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aattttuujj on Mon, 01/03/2021 - 14:40

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hello, With the tense Present Simple the structure is is/are + past participle. What is the structure of the past perfect? i have to know the passive past perfect for my test but i don't know how to form it. thanks for the grammar tests already they help a lot.
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Tue, 02/03/2021 - 03:28

In reply to by aattttuujj

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Hi aattttuujj,

The passive in the past perfect is: had been + past participle. Good luck with your test :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kaisoo93 on Fri, 26/02/2021 - 05:50

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Hello Teachers, Are all verbs in sentence with structure like "how/how long/what/whether/who + to-infinitive" can be replaced with passive form without restructuring the sentence? For example: 1) Who "to hire" is decided by the management = Who "is hired" is decided by the management = Who "to be hired" is decided by the management 2) How much money "to allocate" to housing depends on various factors. =How much money "to be allocated" to housing depends on various factors. =How much money "is allocated" to housing depends on various factors. Thanks

Hello Kaisoo93,

You can reformulate sentences such as these to have a subject and a finite verb form, but it is not always passive. Depending on the context, an active form may be required:

Where to go is your decision

> Where you go is your decision

 

Your second example also likely requires an active form:

How much money we/they/the government should allocate depends on...

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by danohara on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 18:46

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Hi there, thank you for the informative posts as ever. I think that the table should be updated so that it says "have/has been + past participle" in the present perfect row. One of my students read it and got confused. Many thanks
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Wed, 06/01/2021 - 03:07

In reply to by danohara

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Hi danohara,

I've updated the table now. Thanks so much for letting us know about the correction :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SonuKumar on Mon, 04/01/2021 - 17:12

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Sir, Bicycles are made here since the year 2000. Bicycles have been made here since the year 2000. Which sentence is correct and if both are correct then what is the difference ?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 08:28

In reply to by SonuKumar

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Hello SonuKumar,

The second sentence is correct as you are describing an action which began in the past and continues to the present.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Fiona on Fri, 20/11/2020 - 06:57

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To ask a following question about what I asked before, Another similar usage came up to me was that, why that we more often say “things have changed” but not “things are changed”?

Hello Fiona,

Both forms are possible, depending on the context, of course.

The present perfect (have changed) is used when we are talking about the present result of a past action or event.

The present simple passive (are changed) tells us about the current situation. Normally, it does not necessarily mean that there is something different about the present as compared to the past. However, the verb 'change' already contains this meaning, so we have a situation in which the lexical item (the word) carries meaning which is normally part of the verb form. Even so, the present perfect is more common, with change as much as with other verbs.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by DaniWeebKage on Thu, 19/11/2020 - 12:13

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Dear Team, "are/is called" or "have/has been called" What is the difference? When to use each? Thanks
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Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 20/11/2020 - 06:37

In reply to by DaniWeebKage

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Hello DaniWeebKage,

The first form is a present simple form and the second is a present perfect form. There's an explanation of the different uses of these forms in the Present tense section of our English grammar.

If you have any other specific questions, please let us know.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Pola on Wed, 18/11/2020 - 12:50

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Hi, I have a question and I hopes the learnEnglish team to answer me. In grammar test 2, in the example which it says, someone _ my wallet and left at reception, here the correct answer is " had found" ok, although the structure here is had been+ past participle, then how it used had found. Thanks for you.
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 18/11/2020 - 16:50

In reply to by Pola

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Hello Pola,

This page is about how to correctly form and also use the passive voice. It's not correct to use it in a sentence like this one, and that's what this question is testing.

If you already knew this, that's great! It shows that you understand this important point.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Fiona on Sun, 15/11/2020 - 11:34

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Hi! What’s the difference between A lot of time is wasted on pointless meetings in this company. VS. A lot of time have been wasted on pointless meetings in this company.
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Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 16/11/2020 - 07:31

In reply to by Fiona

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Hello Fiona,

The difference is the difference between the present simple ('is') and the present perfect ('has been' -- notice that 'have been' is not correct because 'time' takes a singular verb). The first one is a more general statement that could refer to a long period of time and the second one refers to a more specific time that began sometime in the past and is still happening now.

I'd suggest you read more a bit more about this on our Present simple and Present perfect pages.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for replying! Your explanation is helpful!
Another similar usage came up to me was that, why that we more often say “things have changed” but not “things are changed”?

Submitted by Via on Fri, 16/10/2020 - 23:56

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Hello, e.g, The work will be finished next week. Could I rewrite the sentence as: e.g, The work will have finished next week. My appreciations.
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Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 14:16

In reply to by Via

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Hello Via,

Yes, that is grammatically correct and the two sentences effectively mean the same thing. The first one is much more commonly used.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by emmanuelniyomugabo12 on Fri, 25/09/2020 - 20:59

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This is the course that I try to capture very well and I enjoy learning passive voice.

Submitted by abo omar on Sun, 06/09/2020 - 20:54

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Hello, I have a very simple question Can I say Nobody saw the cup And how to change into passive. Can I say " The cup wasn't seen by anybody. " or " The cup was seen by nobody "
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Mon, 07/09/2020 - 04:33

In reply to by abo omar

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Hi abo omar,

Yes! Nobody saw the cup is fine, and both of your passive sentences are fine too.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kee_Fos on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 19:34

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Hello! Could you add lesson about impersonal passive too?

Submitted by Shreya on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 14:28

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Hello! I am not able to get this two sentences: 1) Flights to Sanya, the holiday hotspot in the South China Sea, has seen strong recovery helped by a new duty-free policy. This sentence should be in passive, they haven't mentioned who has seen it. Again it can't be "has been seen" as per passive rules. 2) All the children, gathered in that group, were ready to perform a traditional dance.(non-finite clause) Over here it should be readied.But again it sounds wrong. Kindly help.
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Sat, 29/08/2020 - 03:53

In reply to by Shreya

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Hi Shreya,

These are interesting examples. Let me try to help.

 

1) The sentence is correct in the active voice. In this sentence, see doesn't mean 'see with your eyes'. It's a different meaning. Here, it means 'to be the time or place when something happens', and the subject is Flights to Sanya (i.e. it means something like 'Flights to Sanya have experienced or witnessed ...'). This is the third meaning of see listed on this page in the Cambridge Dictionary. Have a look there for more examples.

But one correction is needed: Flights to Sanya have seen ...

 

2) There's no need to use a passive in this sentence. It's fine to use the adjective ready.

As you point out, ready is also a verb so the passive form would be: All the children were readied to perform ... . But, using the passive means specifically that the children were readied by someone (e.g. by a teacher, or a group leader). That is, the children didn't get themselves ready. But there's no other information about that in this sentence, so there's no reason to prefer the passive.

 

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Shreya on Sat, 29/08/2020 - 10:47

In reply to by Jonathan R

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Thank you so much Jonathan for your help.

Submitted by amrita_enakshi on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 08:30

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Hello Could you please help me with the following quassi-passive voice change? Active : Cheese is a milk product. Passive : Cheese is a product which is made of milk. Am I correct ?
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Submitted by Smiley1 on Tue, 18/08/2020 - 09:32

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Hello admins, Please tell me the difference between 'I have no story to be told' and 'I have no story to tell'. Does it depend on how the speaker see the story??

Hi Smiley1,

Interesting examples! Their meanings are very similar. But:

  • The first one (no story to be told) focuses more on the story, since be told is a passive verb referring to the story ('a story is told').
  • The second one (no story to tell) focuses more on the speaker, since tell is an active verb and the doer of the verb is the speaker.

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by alekanka on Wed, 15/07/2020 - 20:51

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Hello! I've never quite understood how to use passive with "be going to do smt" form. I've seen both "will be done" and "be going to be done". Which of them is more correct and why? Thanks in advance
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 15:06

In reply to by alekanka

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Hello alekanka,

Both of those can work -- it really depends on how you see the future. You can see an explanation of this on our Talking about the future page.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Karan Narang on Wed, 15/07/2020 - 04:36

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I have been got good mark by test although I have some doubt many people who use these sentence passive voice like I am tired, I was gone market yesterday and I will be opened my new shop by tomorrow. These sentence meaning whether passive or active voice can u explain it.

Hello Karan Narang,

Although it looks like a passive sentence, 'I am tired' is simply the pronoun 'I' + the verb 'be' + the adjective 'tired'. Some past participles are routinely used as adjectives, and of course we can use the verb 'be' with them. It can sometimes be tricky to know when a sentence is passive or simply 'be' + an adjective, but especially in informal situations, it's probably not a passive verb.

I'm afraid the other two sentences you mention are not grammatically correct.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Learn on Thu, 02/07/2020 - 17:28

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Hello ! I found some difficulty with this two sentences please : - The fire service still have not put out. - I don't know who stole my bike. thank you.

Hello Learn,

I suppose you don't understand some words in these sentences? You can find 'to put out' (which means 'to extinguish' and 'steal' ('stole' is the past simple form of 'steal') in the dictionary.

Please note that the first sentence is missing a word -- it should say 'put it out'.

If you have any more questions, we're happy to help -- please just be a little more specific about what you don't understand.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by redream on Sat, 20/06/2020 - 07:57

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Hello! "They are thought that it was wild effort" I heard this sentence by FIFA game speaker. May you explain the meaning with details. (Such as I understood 'others thought about them that the effort was wild') Thank you for all help and support.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 21/06/2020 - 07:18

In reply to by redream

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Hello redream,

The sentence is not grammatically correct as written.

We're happy to explain language on our pages and sometimes from other published sources such as media or literature. However, we don't generally comment on remarks made in passing by people who we do not know and whose English may be far from perfect.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hamdy Ali on Mon, 15/06/2020 - 20:20

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Choose 1-In my city where I live,new small projects(start-are started) every day. I really want the answer for this choice with explanation.

Submitted by Hamdy Ali on Tue, 09/06/2020 - 22:36

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Choose 1-In my city where I live,new small projects(start-are started) every day. 2- He (was sent- has been sent) to prison for his crimes. Thank you very much.

Submitted by CGL on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 19:34

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Hello, this sentence was shown as an example of a passive voice: "The fire service still haven't put out the fire". Where is the verb "to be" in this sentence?. Thank you very much for your help and support!.

Hello CGL

I'm afraid that the verb 'have not put out' is active, not passive. You could make it passive by saying something like 'The fire still hasn't been put out by the fire service.'

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jenny on Sat, 16/05/2020 - 21:03

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Can we use present continuous passive for future arrangements? eg my car is being serviced next Monday

Hello Jenny,

Yes, that's perfectly correct. It's quite a common form when we don't know or don't want to say who or what is performing the action.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by H_L on Sat, 09/05/2020 - 15:49

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Hello, Could you please direct me into a page here that explains how we change the passive sentences into active ones? I use lots of passive sentences in my writing which I've been told weakens my essays. Thank you for your help.