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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Submitted by eager2know on Tue, 09/02/2021 - 18:38

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Hello Dear Teachers, I am having issues with understanding the object in Active voice to be placed as a subject of the Passive Voice. For example, I am not sure what the obj is in the following examples (how many words): e.g.Repair another table for this class. (two days ago) - Another table for this class was repaired two days ago. - Another table was repaired for this class two days ago.

Hi eager2know,

I think normally, we'd understand another table as the object of the active voice sentence. We'd understand the phrase for this class as referring to the action of repairing, and it isn't part of the object. 

But, we can understand it another way: the object is another table for this class. In this case, the table is for the class (while in the other meaning above, 'repairing' is for the class). It's a small difference in meaning, though, and both of your passive sentences mean pretty much the same thing. 

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Tue, 09/02/2021 - 02:35

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Sir, 'The chair is broken'. It has two meanings:- First, it is a passive construction. Here 'broken' is a main verb in 3rd form past participle of break. And 'is' an auxiliary verb. Second, 'broken' here acts as an adjective in verb 3rd form past participle. And 'is' is a main verb/linking verb. Pls correct If I am not right?
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Tue, 09/02/2021 - 03:56

In reply to by Rsb

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Hi Rsb,

Yes! We can understand this sentence both ways.

But, the second one (broken = adjective) is more likely, because of the tense in your sentence. The first one is a passive action in the present simple. The present simple usually shows something that is true in the present and is relatively unchanging, or is a regularly occurring action. But the action of breaking a chair is short and usually not a regularly occurring action.

Instead, to describe an action that you are seeing right now, we'd use the present continuous: The chair is being broken. (Or: The chair is breaking). Alternatively, if we can see the broken chair, then the action has already happened and we'd use the present perfect or past simple: The chair has been broken / The chair was broken. (Or: The chair has broken. / The chair broke.)

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Thu, 11/02/2021 - 03:47

In reply to by Jonathan R

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Jonathan sir, The chair was broken. Sentence is same but meaning is different. It is simple past tense(passive voice) and It is simple past sentence. broken describing the chair. 'Break' is an Ergative verb here ? Ex. I am breaking the chair. The chair is breaking.

Hi Rsb,

Yes :) The past tense sentence has the two different meanings you mentioned. And that's right - break is an ergative verb.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Thu, 11/02/2021 - 10:09

In reply to by Jonathan R

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Sir, Simple sentences (present, past and future) are different from simple tenses. For ex. She is beautiful (simple present sentence) She goes (simple present tense)
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Thu, 11/02/2021 - 13:47

In reply to by Rsb

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Hi Rsb,

Yes, that's right. Simple sentences are sentences that have only one clause. Simple tenses are tenses that are not continuous. Both the examples you mentioned are simple sentences and have simple tenses.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bakh.sh85 on Tue, 02/02/2021 - 21:12

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Hello sir I am not sure if the selected answer in the following question is correct. Q. Choose the correct passive sentence. A. The meeting will be cancelled soon. B. He got angry when they inquired about his private life. C. Both (A snd B) D. A large cake was been left on the table. Is “He got angry ...” a correct passive voice sentence? Please help me with this. Thanks
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 03/02/2021 - 10:08

In reply to by bakh.sh85

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Hello bakh.sh85,

No, that's not a passive form. To make a passive, you need to use be + past participle. It's possible to replace 'be' with 'get' or 'become', but you still need a past participle, and in your sentence 'angry' is an adjective, not a past participle.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Thu, 28/01/2021 - 06:05

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Sir, She always wear pressed uniform. Here pressed is an adjective? Can we use also ironed uniform or ironing uniform in place of pressed uniform? Which will be correct ironed or ironing? It will work as an adjective too if we use ironed or ironing?

Submitted by Rsb on Tue, 26/01/2021 - 07:24

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Hello sir, 1. Glass might be broken.(active voice) Glass might get broken.(active voice) Here broken acts as an adjective. If I say, Glass might be broken by rahul. (Passive) Glass might get broken by rahul.( Passive) It both has the same meaning where broken is a verb 3rd form of break in passive form. We can sometimes use get in place of be in passive form. Am I correct? 2. I was hurt.(active voice) I got hurt.(Active voice) Here hurt act as an adjective. If I say, I was hurt by rahul. (Passive) I got hurt by rahul.(Passive) It both have the same meaning where hurt is a verb 3rd form in passive form. We can sometimes use the get in place of be in passive form . Am I correct? 3.last one is, Aliyah is hospitalized.(active) Aliyah gets hospitalized.(active) Here hospitalized is an adjective? And if I say, Aliyah is hospitalized by rahul (passive) and Aliyah gets hospitalized by rahul. Both has the same meaning in passive form as hospitalize acts as main verb here. We use the get in place of be in passive form. Pls intervene it need your support. Thanks

Hello Rsb,

Yes, 'get' can be used in the place of 'be' in passive forms in informal situations. I'd suggest you think of the verbs 'be' and 'get' in the first pairs of sentences in your examples not as active but rather as link verbs.

Link verbs establish a link between a noun and an adjective or other noun -- they don't have objects (remember that transitive verbs by definition have an object).

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Yes sir it works as linking verb above. As u suggest link verbs establish a link between a noun and an adjective. Here broken and hurt is an adjective? One more things sir, like we say, Aliyah is in hospital mean to say she is hospitalized. Here hospitalized is an adjective or noun?

Submitted by Rsb on Sun, 24/01/2021 - 09:23

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Sir, "I got hurt" - "I am hurt" "I was hurt" here 'hurt' acts as an adjective past participle form? And if I say, "I was hurt by the seniors in the college" or "I am hurt by the seniors in the college". Can we use get in place of be in form of passive construction? I got hurt by the seniors in the college". I get hurt by the seniors in the college". Can 'hurt' function as verb or adjective both? Hospitalized is also an adjective? For ex. Aliyah is hospitalized.
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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Fri, 22/01/2021 - 15:26

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Hello admins, Are these both correct? She (Russian Blue) is gone! She (Russian Blue) disappeared!

Hi Rafaela1,

Yes! These are both grammatically correct. (Is Russian Blue a cat?)

In British English, it's also common to use the present perfect for the second sentence: She's disappeared / She has disappeared.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Jonathan, your advice helps me a lot. Yupe, a Russian Blue is a furriend. ;)

Submitted by Nuro on Thu, 21/01/2021 - 14:09

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Hi team,I don't understand two thing about this sentence "The exact words my father spoke as he left us are branded in my memory." 1)I tried to add agent (by sth.) to practice my understanding voices.But I couldn't add because who or what can brand sth. in your memory!? Could you give an example agent for this sentence ? 2)Sometimes I can't add any agent in passive voice sentences.But object need a doer.Can you say why I can't add doer some passive sentences?

Hello Nuro,

I don't think the phrase 'are branded' is a passive verb here. Instead, it's the verb 'be' and the adjective 'branded' (which is formed from the verb 'brand'). If it were a passive verb, it would be in the past ('were branded') because that is the time that the words were spoken and entered the speaker's memory.

There is no need for an agent to be included in a passive sentence; indeed, much of the time, the whole point of a passive sentence is not to mention the agent. When I think about the sentence 'The words he spoke as he left us were branded in my memory', I'd understand the situation to be what caused his words to make such an impression on this person -- in other words, the situation is the agent.

I hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Yap on Tue, 19/01/2021 - 19:41

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Dear Sir, I am always confused that when should I use passive voice or "being". For example : 1) 10 workers were terminated by the company 2) 10 workers have been terminated by the company 3) 10 workers were being terminated by the company My intuition tells me that (1) and (2) are more common, but under which circumstance I should use being rather than passive voice+verb? Thanks.

Hello Yap,

'Being' here indicates that the form is continuous:

10 workers were terminated by the company. [past simple passive]

10 workers were being terminated by the company. [past continuous passive]

The continuous passive form is used just as other continuous forms are used: when something is in progress and is interrupted by another action, for example.

 

Your question is not really about passive voice as all three options are passive forms. What you are asking is when to use the past simple (1), the present perfect (2) and the past continuous (3). The fact they are all passives does not change the differences between these three forms.

 

  • The past simple (1) indicates a finished past action.
  • The present perfect (2) indicates a past action with present relevance.
  • The past continuous (3) indicates an action in progress interrupted by another event or another time point.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nuro on Mon, 18/01/2021 - 09:38

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Hi team, I have learnt in passive sentences we use with + tool. But the fallowing sentence with + subject. "The midfield player has been sidelined for the past month with knee problems." Why with+subject here? Have I learnt wrong, could you explain?
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Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 18/01/2021 - 15:49

In reply to by Nuro

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Hello Nuro,

It's true that you can use 'with' to talk about a tool in a passive sentence, but that's not the only use of 'with'. It is a very common word with many uses. Here it describes the reason for the action -- see the 'with preposition (CAUSE)' entry (the eighth heading in purple) on the page I linked to for more examples.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Teacher,If I want to say in active voice, can I use -knee problems- for the subject?At that time sentence like this: "Knee problems have sidelined him for the past month." If my active voice sentence is false,what could I say?

Hello Nuro,

I think you would probably see the passive sentence in most sports journalism, but your sentence is perfect -- great work!

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Mon, 11/01/2021 - 06:10

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Sir, "I want you to eat the food". "I want you to read the book". Is this correct to say same sentences like this?? I want you eating the food and I want you reading the book.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 12/01/2021 - 08:22

In reply to by Rsb

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Hello Rsb,

Both forms (want sb to do and want sb doing) are grammatically possible.

 

Generally, I think we use want sb doing when we are talking about an existing situation which we want to continue or stop:

I don't want you talking to my children!

We also use this to describe an imagined situation in the future which we hope to find or avoid:

I'll be working all day so I don't want people interrupting me.

We have to send the proposal on Monday, so when I get here tomorrow I want everyone working hard on the text.

 

The infinitive form (want sb to do) generally refers to a particular action in the future;

I don't want you to talk to my children.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nuro on Fri, 08/01/2021 - 12:09

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Hi teacher Peter, I am confused. Some adjectives end with"-ed". And many past participle forms end with "-ed".However, This situation confuses me. For example, this sentence "I am excited".The word(excited) is -adj- or past participle of passive ?

Hi Nuro,

This is an ambiguous case. The word 'excited' could be an adjective:

I am excited/happy/sad etc.

She is an excited/happy/sad person.

 

On the other hand, you could see it as a past participle in a passive construction:

I am excited by the plan.

 

It doesn't make any difference to the sentence, really; it's simply a question of terminology.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Fri, 25/06/2021 - 04:55

In reply to by Peter M.

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Sir, The sentence has also two meaning: He gets excited- excited' could be an adjective. On the other hand, He gets excited by the plan. - excited could be past participle in passive form. Am I correct ?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 25/06/2021 - 07:07

In reply to by Rsb

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Hello Rsb,

It's correct that you can interpret the sentence either way. However, I would not say that there are two meanings here. The meaning really doesn't change either way.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, please let me know 'He is excited' can be interpreted in two ways: 1. He is excited- simple present sentence. Excited as an adjective. 2. He is excited- passive voice excited behaves as past participle V3 form Same like 'He gets excited' can be interpreted in both ways: 1. He gets excited- active voice excited behaves as an adjective 2. He gets excited- passive voice excited behaves as past participle
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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Thu, 03/12/2020 - 08:55

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Hello. Which sentence is correct or both are? Why? 1- Many machines are made to run by electricity. 2- Many machines are made to be run by electricity. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I don't think either of those sound particulary natural, to be honest. Although I don't know the context or exactly what you intend to say, I would guess that you are looking for something like this:

Many machines are designed to run on electricity

or

Many machines are electrically powered

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 16:26

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Hello. I'm really confused about the following sentence: - I've got some of the cleverest students (to prepare - preparing - prepared) for the competition. They don't need preparation anymore. I think the three forms are OK, right? Thank you.

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