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

Average: 4.2 (115 votes)

Submitted by Kunthea on Thu, 11/08/2022 - 03:46


Hello teachers,
Could you please tell me about the exercise number 7 in Grammar test 1?
The fire service still________ the fire.
The answer is haven't put out
The third answer makes more sense; I also think that. However, why not use hasn't instead; I think the subject of the sentence is singular or the subject itself means Plural? Why?

Hello Kunthea,

Words which describe organisations and institutions can often be both singular and plural. Thus we can say The police is... or The police are....

Other examples are the fire service, the army, the United Nations, Manchester United, the European Union, my class, the government, Microsoft etc.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Eureka on Wed, 10/08/2022 - 07:07


Is it alright to begin a sentence with a PASSIVE VERB (in caps)?
For example, CONSTRUCTED on this land is a premium condominium.
If not why?
Is the following better?
A premium condominium has been CONSTRUCTED on this land.
A more complex one is as follows:
Social elites promoted the "great tradition", which pushes forward "practice" through "discourse, "entirely breaking down idols".
Does it make sense to rewrite it as follows?
PROMOTED by social elites, the “great tradition” pushes forward “practice” through “discourse”, “entirely breaking down idols”.

Thank you for your advice as I was unable to find any help even on the Internet.

Hello Eureka,

Regarding your first question, the second version is definitely the better one in the vast majority of situations. As far as I can tell, the first version would only work in poetry or some very unusual and specific situation.

As for the second sentence, both versions are correct and mean the same thing.

Please note that a passive verb is not composed just of the past participle, but also of the auxiliary verb. So in your first sentence, for example, the full passive verb is 'has been constructed'.

The sentences beginning with the past participles actually use a participle clause (not a passive verb). As you'll see on the page I've linked to, we get a lot of questions about participle clauses. This is ironic, since they are relatively uncommon, but my point is that you might want to read through some of the comments and our answers to learn more.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Thank you for your explanation and the link. Having read them, I have a better understanding now.

I have another question on the use of ... not only ... but (also) ..., and sincerely hope you can help me. Is there a writing convention stating that 'not only' has to be placed in front? Examples below.

1) The official codes were NOT ONLY observed in trials, BUT legal writings were ALSO used as references for adjudicating cases.
2) NOT ONLY the official codes were observed in trials, BUT legal writings were ALSO used as references for adjudicating cases.

For context, Sentence 1 was extracted from a longer sentence as follows:
He believes that in the Qing Dynasty, the official state codes, such as the Great Qing Legal Code, were not only strictly observed in court trials, but established cases, customary laws, reasoning, and legal writings were also used as important references for judicial officials to judge cases. However, an editor suggested bringing NOT ONLY before 'the official state codes'.

Thank you for your time.

Hello Eureka,

Yes, it's possible to use 'not only' at the beginning, though this requires inverting the subject and auxiliary verb. You did a good job with sentence 2 but the auxiliary verb in the 'not only' clause ('were') needs to be put before the subject ('the official codes'): 'Not only were the official codes observed in trials, but legal writings ...'

This is a topic we are developing a page about (I'm afraid it will be some time before it's ready for publication), but in the meantime you can read a little more about this on the Cambridge Dictionary page on inversion (see especially the 'Expressions beginning with not' section).

What your editor suggested sounds like a good idea to me, though of course you would need to move 'were' as well: 'He believes that in the Qing Dynasty, not only were official state codes, such as the GQLC, strictly observed ...'

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Thank you. Sentence 1 was the original one before it was edited. Would the unedited Sentence 1 be correct in and of itself?

Sentence 2 was edited from Sentence 1 but the edited version is somehow incorrect as the auxiliary verb should have been placed before the subject.

Really appreciate your time

Hello Eureka,

Yes, sentence 1 is grammatically correct. Re: sentence 2, I expect it was just an oversight on the editor's part.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team