Passives

Do you know how to use the passive voice to change the focus of a sentence? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

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

Language level

Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.
Average: 2.3 (3 votes)
Profile picture for user Kirk

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 19/05/2021 - 08:23

In reply to by Tony1980

Permalink

Hi Andi,

'are being amused' would probably be a passive form, actually, precisely because we don't normally use link verbs in the continuous, and so the use of a continuous form here would show that it was something different.

But using 'are being amused' would just not be correct here for the reason I mentioned aboe, as well as the infinitive 'to see' that follows.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tony1980 on Fri, 26/11/2021 - 18:10

In reply to by Kirk

Permalink

Hi Kirk
I came across this sentence;

The reason behind the new government strategy is impossible to understand.

Why is there an active infinitive instead of a passive one? I mean why the sentence isn’t;
The reason ……. Is impossible to be understood.

It is believed that the largest sea coral is near Norway.
Can we also say ;
The largest sea coral is believed to be near Norway.
Best regards
Andi

Hi Andi,

I'm not sure I can give you a reason why the structure exists but I can confirm that adjective + to infinitive is quite a common structure:
> That's hard to do.
> The task is difficult to do in one hour.
> The reason is impossible to know.

There is an implied prepositional phrase here:
> That's hard (for us) to do.
> The task is difficult (for anyone) to do in one hour.
> The reason is impossible (for anyone) to know.

Both sentences about the sea coral are correct.

You can see a list of some common adjectives which are followed by to-infinitive on this page:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/english-grammar-referen…

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I would like to know if this PV example is correct: "the kids were taught by my favorite teacher."

Submitted by Mussorie on Tue, 04/05/2021 - 14:23

Permalink
I think both the below sentences are correct. Do they convey the same meaning? If not, correct me where I go wrong, and explain to me the details. 1.It is bad being robbed(in this case, is being robbed acting as a complement to bad.) 2. Being robbed is a bad experience.

Submitted by Kaisoo93 on Thu, 22/04/2021 - 10:45

Permalink
Dear Teacher, "The changes to the tax system proved impracticable as they were impossible to enforce." I wonder if "they were" refers to "the changes", is it correct to change "to enforce" to "to be enforced" (become "The changes to the tax system proved impracticable as they were impossible to be enforced.")? Thanks

Hello Kaisoo93,

Yes, I understand 'they' to mean 'the changes to the tax system'; I don't see any other possibility in this specific sentence.

It wouldn't be correct to say 'to be enforced' here. The basic structure of the clause is an extremely common one in English: subject + 'be' + adjective + infinitive. In this case: subject ('they') + 'be' ('were') + adjective ('impossible') + infinitive ('to enforce'). Very often, such sentences begin with 'it': 'It's impossible to know the future'.

As far as I can think, the infinitive is always active in such sentences.

Hope this makes sense.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team