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

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Average: 3.4 (11 votes)
Hi Kirk Thanks indeed for your response. It’s another sentence following the extract above. When no one is watching, you switch the labels and are / are being amused to see how people react. In this sentence Are is the correct answer . Can you explain please why the simple present and not present continues is possible here? Best wishes Andi
Profile picture for user Kirk

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 18/05/2021 - 08:20

In reply to by Tony1980

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Hello Andi,

In this case, 'be amused' is not a passive verb -- it's just the link verb 'be' with the adjective 'amused'. We don't normally use link verbs in continuous tenses. 

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk Thank you for your quick answer If “ are being amused “ was the correct answer since it is in passive it should be followed by “ by “ which refers to what amused them or him and not by an infinitive “ to see “ . Is this explanation of mine correct or not , according to you? All the best Andi
Hi Kirk Ok just ignore my previous comment as are being amused is not passive as you explained my fault. Best wishes Andi
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 19/05/2021 - 08:23

In reply to by Tony1980

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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

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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."