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 (97 votes)

Hi khaledAl5,

Good question. Yes, you can transform a sentence that has an object into the two passive forms that you mentioned.

However, as the impersonal passive includes a phrase such as "It's said that ..." or "He is said to ...", it tends to be used when the speaker wants to report what other people say. Apart from "say", other reporting verbs can be used in this structure (e.g. "It's believed / claimed / suggested / reported that ..."). If the speaker is not reporting what other people say, the normal passive would be preferred.

If you are interested in this topic, we are currently preparing a new C1 grammar page on it and it should be published soon!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Amir__760__ on Mon, 10/07/2023 - 08:34

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Hello support team!

I hope you're doing well and feeling alright.

The following multiple-choice question was in my entrance exam, and I think it has two correct answers, making it technically incorrect.

I would be obliged if you would help me. Here it goes:

They are first taught the basic procedures for scuba diving, including safety and communication with fellow divers, ................... with the equipment before dipping their 
toes into the water. 

1) and familiarized ✅
2) who are familiarized 
3) while they are familiarizing
4) then familiarize themselves✅

Hi Amir__760__,

I would choose answer 1 as the correct one.

Consider this sentence: They are taught the procedures and then familiarised with the equipment. Here, "then" is an adverb. But the sentence also needs to include the conjunction "and", which functions to join the two parts of the sentence. We need "and" because "then" is not a conjunction and it can't join the parts of the sentence in this way. Strictly speaking, therefore, it's incorrect to say They are taught the procedures, then familiarize themselves ... because a conjunction (e.g. "and") is missing. (I should add that it is, nonetheless, fairly common to use "then" in this way in actual speaking and writing.) It should instead be one of these options.

  • They are taught the procedures, and then familiarize themselves ...
  • They are taught the procedures. Then they familiarize themselves ...

So, answer 4 can be considered incorrect - not because of "familiarize themselves", but because of the use of "then" as a conjunction.

I hope that helps to answer your question.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

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