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 Khairullah on Sun, 06/04/2014 - 11:17

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Hi Sir, I am from Afghanistan I want improve my English skills please advise me important point to essay way to learn and improve English skills . thanks

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 08/04/2014 - 12:04

In reply to by Khairullah

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Hi Khairullah,

I'd suggest you work through some episodes of the Elementary Podcasts. Start with series 3 episode 1. First, listen to the one or two sections of the podcast, and then read the transcript (under Instructions & downloads) as you listen. Then work through the exercises that correspond to the sections you've listened to.

To work on improving your pronunciation and fluency, choose some useful phrases from what you've listened to and imitate their pronunciation - repeat those words and phrases many times. Pronounce whole phrases, not just words, because the pronunciation of words in English varies to some degree according to context. Repeat these phrases until they're relatively easy to say. This is slow work, but you'll be building up a repertoire that you'll be able to use in your speaking. If you can practise speaking English with other people who speak it well (they don't have to be natives), that will also help you a great deal.

To improve your writing, respond to the discussion questions at the bottom of each episode. Try to engage other users in a written conversation. If you can find a teacher to correct your writing (unfortunately we cannot do this for you), that will also be really helpful. It's also a good idea to read texts that are similar to the ones that you'll need to write. For example, if you need to write articles, read articles.

Good luck!

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by smirfan on Wed, 26/03/2014 - 17:05

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Dear Sir. Can the sentence "He jumped into the river." be changed into passive. If yes,what is its passive form

Hi smirfan,

No, only transitive verbs (verbs which have a direct object) can be used in the passive. jump in the sense you have used it here is not a transitive verb, and therefore can not be formed in the passive. You would have to change the verb to have a passive sense here, e.g. "He was thrown into the river."

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Learner S on Sat, 22/03/2014 - 17:51

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HI SIR Q1= I m confused in passive form of modals such might,could etc.... Q2= How we can use could in possibility in present,past and future.....

Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 23/03/2014 - 09:58

In reply to by Learner S

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Hello Learner S,

Modal verbs are not transitive verbs, and therefore have no passive forms.

I think Peter M already answered part of your second question about could. I'd also suggest our certain, probable or possible page for more on how to speak about possibility, including with could. If it's still not clear to you after that, please ask a more specific question so that we can better help you.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Source on Sun, 09/02/2014 - 06:58

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Dear, sir The pattern sentences below have to be+past participle (is left, is gone, is delayed) form too. I am just confused I think that they are not in passive form . When I am trying to translate such kind of sentences with this pattern I just can't find their direct meaning to my own language. What are they ? Are they Adjective or what? Thank you very much, in advance! 1. Nothing is left to invest in assets. 2. He is gone. 3. Im sorry, your flight is delayed 7 and a half hours.

Hello Source,The passive vs adjective distinction is a very difficult area, and one which provokes a large amount of discussion.  There are some tests you can use to identify passive forms - for example, you can see if an agent can be added with 'by...'.  There are tests you can use to identify adjectival forms too - try to add a modifier such as very, quite, more or most, or try to use the word before a noun.  However, these are often judgements which are not cut and dried.  That said, I would suggest the following for your sentences:

1. I would say this qualifies as a passive form.  We can add 'by' to the sentence and it, though not perhaps the most elegant formulation, will still be grammatically acceptable ('Nothing is left by us to invest in assets').

2. The verb 'go' here is intransitive (it has no direct object).  Therefore it cannot be a passive form.

3. As with the first sentence, we can add an agent with 'by' here ('Your flight is delayed by bad weather 7 and a half hours'), though a present perfect form would be more likely, given the probably context of the sentence.  It is quite possible to see this as an adjective, however, and to add a modifier ('Your flight has been quite delayed today') or to use it before a noun ('You have a delayed flight, I'm afraid').  This is a good example of the dual natural of many past participles, and the ambiguous nature of their use in particular sentences.

I hope that enlightens you somewhat.  It's a difficult area!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Source on Sat, 08/02/2014 - 10:32

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Please tell me -- What is 1. I will talk to you when I am done. 2. I am done believing you. Is these sentences are in passive voice too or not if not please explain me what are they then? Are they grammatically correct or not Thank you very much in advance

Hello Source,

'Done' in these sentences means the same as 'finished':

'I will talk to you when I am finished.'

'I am finished believing you.'

In these sentences 'done' is an intransitive verb, which means there is no object, and as intransitive verbs cannot form passives the sentences cannot be passive voice.  I have heard it suggested that the 'be + intransive verb' construction (e.g. 'am done') is an old variant of a present perfect form, the equivalent of saying 'have done' or 'have finished', which seems quite likely to me.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, 'In I am done' - 'done' appears to me more as an adjective than verb. Also in 'I am finished'- 'finished' appears as an adjective to me. Would you help me clear the doubt.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 29/11/2019 - 07:45

In reply to by dipakrgandhi

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Hello dipakrgandhi,

This really depends on the context. Many past participles can function as both adjectives and parts of passive (or perfect) verb constructions, and sometimes it is ambiguous which function best describes a given sentence. For example:

The door was closed.

This could be interpreted as a passive construction, meaning that somebody closed the door. Alternatively, 'closed' could be interpreted as an adjective, meaning that the door was not open. Only the context can clarify this, and in some contexts it may still be ambiguous.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by iamsam1987 on Thu, 23/01/2014 - 17:47

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Dear Sir,

                Greetings to all. First of all thank you so much for your kind assistance. I have a query regarding Pseudo Passive. Can we say that Pseudo Passive can be categorized in Causative and Non-causative form? Thanks a lot again.

Regards,

Sam

Submitted by iamsam1987 on Mon, 13/01/2014 - 12:59

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Dear sir,

               This is Sumeet, again. I would like to know which of the following two sentences is correct and why?

a) The student was refused to be admitted by the teacher.

b) The student was refused to admit by the teacher.

Is it the case of double passive ? Thanks a lot in advance. 

Submitted by iamsam1987 on Mon, 13/01/2014 - 12:54

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Dear Sir,

This is Sumeet. I recently sat in an exam where we were asked to transform a passive sentence into active sentence.  The sentence was like this - 

The student was refused admission by the teacher. (Passive)

There were the following two possible answers to it.

a) The teacher refused to admit the student. 

b) The teacher refused admission to the student.  

Now I want you to please let me know which answer is exactly correct and why ? Thank you so much in advance. 

Hi Sumeet,

Ultimately, it would be best for you to take this matter up with your teacher. I will say that sentence a) is grammatically correct - and I suppose is the correct answer on that exam - because the subject of the passive sentence (student) is the object of sentence a). In addition, as you can easily see by searching for "refused admission" on the internet, you'll see that this phrase is part of a passive verb. In sentence b), however, it is an active verb.

Regarding your other comment regarding double passives (above), a) is correct (and is indeed an example of a double passive) and b) is not correct. This is because to admit (an active infinitive) doesn't make sense followed by the phrase by the teacher.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bimsara on Sat, 28/12/2013 - 01:53

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Hello,

 

to be + past participle. I have seen these kind of sentences a lot.I know this is a passive form.But I'm really confused about when we can use this format and is there any similar sentence pattern which we can use instead of to be + past participle?

 

Thank you.

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 30/12/2013 - 10:07

In reply to by bimsara

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Hi bimsara,

There are several possible reasons to use the passive voice, but in general, it is used when we want to focus on an action, and are not concerned with or don't know who or what performed the action.

For example, if I go out to drive my car somewhere and find that it is not there, I might say "My car has been stolen." I don't know who stole it, and my primary concern at the moment isn't about who took it, but on the fact that it is not there. Or in the first sentence I wrote above, I said "it is used" in my description of when to use the passive voice. "it is used" is a passive form, and I used it because I was describing how people use the passive voice in general - I'm not really concerned with who uses it, but with why or when it is used.

It is usually possible to change passive sentences into active ones by using an ambiguous subject such as they or people, but often the passive form is preferred:

The passive voice is often used in academic writing.
They often use the passive voice in academic writing.
People often use the passive voice in academic writing.

I hope this helps you.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by chhiring on Mon, 16/12/2013 - 17:42

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Are these sentences correct and the process ? A. You must have been upset yesterday , when you heard that bad news.(made with simple past tense ) B. You must have finished your homework ,that's why he is playing games.(made with present perfect tense) C. He must have gone to library because when I reached there, he wasn't there. D. You must have finished it 12pm tomorrow. Otherwise, you will be punished (made with future perfect tense) E. You should have been working there for 3 years next year.(made with futeure perfect continuous) Are these sentences and the process to use and make sentences with model perfect and model perfect continuous? ? If these are correct can we do this with other model verbs like may,might,could,would,should?? If these are incorrect, could you please tell me how to use and make perfect models and perfect model continuous? thank you.

Hi chhiring,

I've just responded to two other comments you made on the same topic. If you still have questions about these sentences after studying the pages that I recommended and analysing my answers, please feel free to ask them again - but please do so on one of the pages I mentioned rather than this one.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by chhiring on Mon, 16/12/2013 - 17:21

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My one sir said that the model verbs can be used with present perect tence,present perfect continuous,simple past,past perfect,past perfect continuous but not with future tenses.Is he correct??if he is correct and I am correct then,My confusions are as follows. A. He must have been upset yesterday, when he heard that news. ( Made with simple past tense) B. He is not hungry. He must have just had a lunch .( Made with present perfect tense My biggest confusion is about time expression. Both sentences have the same structures. They look the same. The first sentence is made with simple past whereas, the second sentence is made with present perfect tense. So, my question is that we can't use the word 'yesterday' with the second sentence because the second sentence is made of present perfect.Am I right? ?nd no please

Hi chhiring,

In A, the first verb (must have been) refers to something we are sure about in the the past, and is explained on our certain, probable or possible page; the second verb (heard) is simple past. In B, the first verb (is) is simple present and the second verb (must have had) is like the first one in A.

The word yesterday doesn't make sense in B, because must have just had is referring to not just today, but only a few hours in the past. Expressions that refer to a finished past time are not normally used with the present perfect.

I hope this helps you.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bimsara on Sat, 07/12/2013 - 04:12

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Hello everyone!

'I was trained yesterday by Jame'    Now someone ask from me,

Who trained you?

when trained you?

Are these two questions grammatically correct? I mean don't we need put was/were for this?

Thank you for your help.

Hello bimsara,

'Who trained you?' is fine.  This is an example of a subject question, where the question word simply replaces the subject (even though your sentence is a passive form).

To make a question with 'when' we need a normal question form, with an auxiliary verb:

'When were you trained?' or 'When did Jame train you?' or 'When did you train?'

To find out more about different question forms, look here.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by tachita on Thu, 05/12/2013 - 13:38

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Omg. I've never understood "the passive". It makes me crazy :(. In fact i failed my test for this one!

 

Submitted by Alexvthooft on Mon, 02/12/2013 - 11:03

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Hello All,

 

I was working on the Passive voice with my students when a sentence arose that I had some trouble with.

 

The murderer (a dutch insert here talking about arrest) in his own house.

 

My gut tells me that it should be "The murderer was arrested in his own house", but I simply cannot explain why.

 

If I follow the grammar I would say "The murderer has been arrested in his own house" for I would say that there is no specified time, but we do of course believe it be a fact taking place in the past. A finalised occurrence in the past without a specified and clear time (frame) would suggest the usage of the Present Perfect to me.

 

Can anyone help me out on this one?

 

Cheers, 
Alexander

Hi Alexander,

Perhaps I've misunderstood you, but it seems the issue here isn't the passive vs the active voice, but rather the past simple vs the present perfect. What was the context for this sentence? If, for example, it's a news report, then the present perfect would be the most logical choice here. On the other hand, if the criminal case that led to this arrest and which was already closed some time ago were the context for this sentence, then the past simple would be the correct choice. Perhaps your gut was speaking to you with such a context in mind.

Please feel free to write back if you would like any more clarification on this. Also, since you seem to be a teacher, I wanted to mention that our sister site, Teaching English, might also be a useful resource for you. There's a search box where you could, for example, look up materials on the present perfect.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bimsara on Sat, 30/11/2013 - 02:37

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Hello everyone!

'They have been invited to the party'. i know this is a passive sentence.'They have invited to the party'.and also i know this is an active sentence.But i don't see any different of this two sentence.could anyone say what is the difference of this two sentence?

Thanks for your help.

Hello bimsara,

The second sentence in actually incorrect.  'Invite' is a transitive verb and needs an object.  The sentence should be:

'They have invited him (her, you etc) to the party.'

When you see the sentence like this it is, I think, clear what the difference is:

'They have been invited to the party' - 'they' are the guests.

'They have invited him to the party' - 'they' are the hosts.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish

Submitted by Somenath Khan on Thu, 21/11/2013 - 07:53

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I have registered here to learn English with ease. I have heard that the administrative team is most helpful.

Submitted by Somenath Khan on Thu, 21/11/2013 - 07:51

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please sir, please help me by changing the voice of 'the worm flies in the night'.

Hello Somenath Khan,

I'm afraid a passive form is not possible for this sentence.  The verb 'fly' in this sentence is an intransitive verb (with no object) and cannot be made into a passive form.

To make a sentence in the passive with 'fly' you would need to make it transitive (e.g. 'He flies planes regularly').  Then, it would be possible to use the passive voice ('Planes are flown regularly [by him]').

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by yekta125 on Tue, 03/09/2013 - 12:19

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Hello everybody

I am looking forward for finding a partner to practicing English.

Are there anybody that wanna help me?

Hello yekta125,

Have you tried our Facebook page?  There's a large community of people learning English and keen to practise there.

https://www.facebook.com/LearnEnglish.BritishCouncil

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kamal Sahabandu on Fri, 09/08/2013 - 15:55

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First of all I would like to express my heartiest thanks for the great  work which is being done by British Council. There is nothing special to tell you because everyone knows you are the number one.

 

Thanks,

Kamal Sahabandu , Galle, Sri Lanka.

Hello Kamal!

It is special for you to tell us - we're always happy to hear that people like our work. I hope you enjoy the rest of the website, and wish you all the best in your English studies!

 

Regards

 

Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by chrisf on Thu, 25/07/2013 - 21:26

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Hi there,

I looked up the verb 'injure' in a dictionary. It tells me that it is transitive verb like injure something/yourself/someone. Also, 'injured' is an adjective. Therefore, I am not sure if the word - injured is a passive or adjective in the following examples.

I was wondering if I was right in thinking like this? "Three people were killed and 5 (people) (were) injured in the cash". 

Also I have seen a real-life example about the use of the verb - injure: Dozens have been killed and many more injured in a passenger train derailment.

Was I right in thinking like this as well? Dozens have been killed and many more (people) ( have been) injured.....

Thanks for your help in advance.

Best regards,

Chris

Hello Chris,

Great work! Your interpretation of the two sentences is exactly right! In both cases, the subject and auxiliary verb are the same for both verbs, and so they have been omitted before the second verb. This is very common in both spoken and written English, and especially in the news.

It is very common to use past participles as adjectives. You can see some more examples on our adjectives: -ed and -ing page if you're interested.

Please let us know if you have any other questions.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by skinnypigeon on Wed, 24/07/2013 - 18:54

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Hello LearnEnglish Team! Could you please tell me if the passive form is possible for The Future Continuous Tense. I remember when I learnt tenses and passives at school, we were taught that passive form of this tense wasn't possible however, our college teachers, who teach B.A English, have been doing it with "will be being+past participle".  eg: When I reach home, my mother will be cooking food"

 They would make its passive like this, "The food will be being cooked". Honestly, to me, it's always looked unnatural. I've been through all the examples on this page and there isn't a single one telling that the passive form for this tense is possible. I was just wondering if you could clarify.

Hi skinnypigeon,

"The food will be being cooked" also sounds a bit strange to me, though I don't think it's incorrect, but rather just very unusual.

Have you seen our Verb Machine? If you use it, you'll see that it does allow for a passive future continuous verb form, though note that it doesn't use the term future tense but rather will.

Another useful exercise for you might be to search for "will be being" in a corpus. A corpus is essentially a collection of words that have been printed in a language, so by searching in a corpus, you can see how words or expressions have been used by others. Here are two different ones you could search in: The British National Corpus and The Corpus of Contemporary American English. And if you prefer, you can always use a search engine as a corpus by searching for "will be being" (in quotation marks) in a search engine!

Please let us know what you find!

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Debjen on Tue, 02/07/2013 - 12:15

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Hi,

Thank you for the response towards my query. I really would like to know if a passive voice is possible at all for the sentence that I brought up earlier, which is:

They are playing in the park.

The reason I ask this is because this is a sentence in one of the exercises of a fifth standard English text book and it has us a bit worried.

Regards

Hi Debjen,

No, a passive form is not possible for this sentence.  In this sentence 'play' is an intransitive verb and cannot be made into a passive form.

To make a sentence in the passive with 'play' you would need to make it transitive ('They are playing SOMETHING in the park').  Then, it would be possible to use the passive voice.

I hope that's clear.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

sir;
culd i pls knw what is transtive or intransative words....???
becose as u told to miss. "Debjen" about the sentense "they are playing in the park".
i asked the same sentence to my sir but he told that it is possible to make passive of it...
so m confused...
plz help me....
:(

Hello sharmakishan987,

Transitive verbs are verbs which have an object.  For example:

'I ate a sandwich.'  ['ate' is the verb; 'a sandwich' is the object]

Intransitive verbs do not have an object.  For example:

'The sun rose.' ['rose' is the verb (the past form of 'rise'); there is no object]

You can find more information on transitive verbs here and more information on intransitive verbs here.

 

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mydearfriend73 on Thu, 20/06/2013 - 00:06

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I'm confused by the auxiliary verb "Be", especially in the Perfect form and Passive voice. For example, in present perfect - They have been married since last year.. In this example have=be, been=Past Participle and married is adj. But in another example in Passive Voice eg. The windows have been cleaned by this morning. In this case have been=be and cleaned=Past Participle. Shouldn't it be the second example is also in the form of present perfect? Is it possible to use have been=be + Past Participle in perfect aspect? For more similar examples like this; 1) The job should has been completed by now. 2) There are 3 casualties have been rescued over the fire incident this morning. 3) The injured person had been attended in time and now he is in hospital. 4) The old lady had been taken to hospital before she dead. 5) A boy had been bitten by your dog, when he passed by your house this morning. Should the examples above considerable to be the Pefect Aspect or Passive Voice and Why? Please give more useful examples in this two forms for better understanding. Million thanks in advance.

Hello Mydearfriend73,

Wow - that's a lot of examples!  I think it's not quite so complicated as you are making it.  To simplify it for you, let's remind ourselves of how we make these two forms:

 

  • perfect forms are made with have + the 3rd form (past participle)

to make different tenses we change the form of 'have'

 

  • passive forms are made with be + the 3rd form (past participle)

to make different tenses we change the form of 'be'

 

Confusion can occur because 'have been' can be the (active voice) present perfect form of 'be' and it can be part of a passive form (present perfect passive).

 

In your first example - 'They have been married since last year' - you have a present perfect form (active voice - have been is the present perfect form of 'be') with an adjective:

They are married / They were married / They will be married / They have been married etc.

I don't think it's helpful to try to break it down into 'have = be' and so on.  It's a normal active voice present perfect form followed by an adjective.  The adjective 'married' looks like a 3rd form, which is confusing.  However, you can replace it with other adjectives such as 'happy' or 'famous', which makes the verb form clearer.

Your second example - 'The windows have been cleaned this morning' (without 'by') is a passive form.  It's also a perfect form because it's a present perfect passive.

present perfect (active voice) = have cleaned

They have cleaned the windows this morning

present perfect (passive voice) = have been cleaned

The windows have been cleaned this morning

 

You can find more information on perfective forms here, which may help you.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter, You are great! Your explanation is very clear and solved my doubt. Really appreciate it and Thank You very much for the time. Best Wishes

Submitted by msiddiqua on Sun, 16/06/2013 - 11:20

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I have a problem in academic writing. How can I improve it?

Moreover, I have problem for using word "supposed to"? where we should use it? Thanks.

Submitted by english_learner456 on Sat, 15/06/2013 - 07:56

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hi... Peter thank you very much for your help.

Submitted by Debjen on Fri, 14/06/2013 - 18:43

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Hi,

I wanted to know what the Passive voice would be for the following sentence:

They are playing in the park.

All I have managed to come up with is 

a) Playing is done by them in the park.

b) The game is being played by them in the park.

Also wanted to know if an object can be introduced while changing a sentence from active voice to passive.