Passives

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

Average: 4.2 (115 votes)

Submitted by Sarita Chand on Sat, 03/06/2023 - 04:40

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Please explain to me the rules of passive for the following sentence :
His employers did not pay him well.

Hello Sarita,

You need to change the object 'him' into a subject ('he'). The active verb 'did not pay', which is a negative past simple verb, should be converted into a passive verb by putting 'be' into the negative past simple plus the past participle of 'pay'. Then use the adverb 'well' (with no change in form). Finally, the subject 'his employers' goes after 'by' to show the agent.

Why don't you write it out and we confirm if it's correct?

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by i-puri on Thu, 06/04/2023 - 18:09

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Can anyone explain to me the rules of passive the following:
I want people to praise me.
I don't like people laughing at me.

Hello i-puri,

I imagine what you are asking is how to make these sentences passive.

In both cases, the subject 'people' is eliminated and 'I' is understood to be the subject of the passive verb:

  • I want to be praised.
  • I don't like being laughed at.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Jenny2101 on Mon, 13/03/2023 - 05:54

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Hello, I have a question in the sentence below:
*If my modem......, I would send email to Emma.
A) didn't break down
B) weren't broken down
As I know, a thing "break down" means it stops working. While something "be broken down" means someone has damaged it so it stop working. So I my answer is A due to this explanation. But my teacher said B is true.
Could you explain this for me? Thank you.

Hello Jenny2101,

As far as I know 'to be broken down' doesn't imply that someone damaged the object; it just means that the object has stopped working.

In this case, the sentence only makes sense if the modem has already stopped working. Option A) doesn't talk about the state of the modem, but option B) does and so is the correct answer.

'break down' has several different uses, but when it means 'stop working', it's an intransitive verb. Since it's not possible to use an intransitive verb in the passive voice, it's quite common to use 'be' + past participle, which acts as an adjective. That is the grammar behind 'weren't broken down' here. In other words, 'broken down' is an adjective and 'weren't' is a past form used in a second conditional.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Hi,
I am a learner too. But I think the explanations is as follows>
Both passive and active fit the sentence. But A does not fit because there is a need to meet conditionals structure. Even if it is ok from the POV of passive/active, the correct form were "If my modem has not break ... (to be in line with the rest of the sentence). We need a tense that happen in the past but consequences to be visible now.
Then, indeed, option B considers the passive voice and it is ok from all the perspectives.

Please give me your feeedback on this explanation.

Hi David Radu,

It's a good idea to consider the conditional structure. However, it would need to be a third conditional here: If my modem hadn't broken down ... (see this page for more about the third conditional). The third conditional is needed because we are imagining an unreal past action.

About option B, as Kirk mentioned in his comment, it is not a passive structure, even though the structure looks identical to the passive: weren't broken down (be + adjective). The word "broken down" exists as an adjective (see this Cambridge Dictionary page - here, it is hyphenated as "broken-down" because the dictionary describes its use before a noun).

Another way we know that If my modem weren't broken down ... is not a passive is that with the passive, we can optionally add "by" to show who did the action, e.g. The meal was cooked (by the chef). However, it doesn't make sense to say e.g. If my modem weren't broken down by (somebody) ... . That's because "break down" in the meaning of "stop functioning" is intransitive, as Kirk mentioned. It means that the stopped functioning was because of some internal reason (not some external reason caused by somebody/something else, such as somebody causing damage).  

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Bryan______ on Thu, 16/02/2023 - 02:43

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Hello Team,

I'm struggling with the word "target". Which of these sentences is the correct passive form?

The programme targets junior students
1. The programme is targeted at junior students
2. Junior students are targeted by the programme.

Sentence 1 does not change the subject, but also seems to be correct. Am I missing something here?