Active and passive voice

Level: beginner

Transitive verbs have both active and passive forms:

active   passive
The hunter killed the lion. > The lion was killed by the hunter.
Someone has cleaned the windows. > The windows have been cleaned.

Passive forms are made up of the verb be with a past participle:

  be past participle  
English is spoken all over the world.
The windows have been cleaned.  
Lunch was being served.  
The work will be finished soon.
They might have been invited to the party.

If we want to show the person or thing doing the action, we use by:

She was attacked by a dangerous dog.
The money was stolen by her husband.

Active and passive voice 1

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Active and passive voice 2

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Active and passive voice 3

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Level: intermediate

The passive infinitive is made up of to be with a past participle:

The doors are going to be locked at ten o'clock.
You shouldn't have done that. You ought to be punished.

We sometimes use the verb get with a past participle to form the passive:

Be careful with that glass. It might get broken.
Peter got hurt in a crash.

We can use the indirect object as the subject of a passive verb:

active   passive
I gave him a book for his birthday. > He was given a book for his birthday.
Someone sent her a cheque for a thousand euros. >

She was sent a cheque for a thousand euros.

We can use phrasal verbs in the passive: 

active   passive
They called off the meeting. > The meeting was called off.
His grandmother looked after him. > He was looked after by his grandmother.
They will send him away to school. > He will be sent away to school.
Active and passive voice 4

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Active and passive voice 5

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Level: advanced

Some verbs which are very frequently used in the passive are followed by the to-infinitive:

be supposed to be expected to be asked to be told to
be scheduled to be allowed to be invited to be ordered to

John has been asked to make a speech at the meeting.
You are supposed to wear a uniform.
The meeting is scheduled to start at seven.

Active and passive voice 6

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Active and passive voice 7

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Submitted by emrenginben on Thu, 13/01/2022 - 17:58

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Hi all and thank you in advance for your time and help (really needed),
I've been teaching EFL since 2004 and today I encountered a form of passive voice like "was been spent" during an after-exam chat with a student. "was been spent" was his answer for one of the questions which should have been "was spent". Despite being sure that the form of his answer doesn't exist, I still googled it as usual because, you know you can actually never be sure when it comes to language studies. Anyways, I clicked on the search button and bingo! Hundreds of examples of "was been spent" especially in governmental documents (talking about the procurements done by the Government in the past), scientific research articles (representing research outcomes evidenced by quantitative data analysis, medical statements and in many other contexts. However, I couldn't find any grammatical explanations on it apart from some forum discussions full of people who are 100 % sure that kind of passive form doesn't exist, but it does and I really need to know its function and meaning (simply put "Why?" of it). I can only assume that this passive form is used to express high level of formality, certainty, importance, seriousness or emphasis. However, these are just my personal assumptions that don't satisfy me. I'd be obliged if you could help and provide a more reliable explanation.
Looking forward to your reply.
Best,
Emre

Hi Emre,

I'll try to answer your question. First, I can assure you that "was been spent" is not grammatical and it should be "was spent" or "was being spent" or "has been spent".

When I searched for the phrase "was been spent", I also found government documents including them (probably the same procurement documents you mentioned). However, looking closely, "was been spent" appears not in the government's own text but in the questions from citizens that the government was asked and is responding to. They may have preserved the original question wording, errors included, to avoid any possible distortions from 'correcting' it. One of those questions included both "how much has been spent" and "how much was been spent" - I assume the first phrase is the meaning intended by the asker.

I found another government document from 1877 with "was been spent" in the search results. However, opening the document shows that it is formatted in two columns of text, with "been spent" in one column and "was" is in the other. The words are actually in different sentences. The search engine has parsed the whole document incorrectly in lines from left to right, across columns.

For the other search results, they must be errors, either grammatical or typing. Errors do appear in official documents and academic texts (though less commonly than elsewhere). You may find hundreds of examples online, but that is true even of ungrammatical phrases, given the huge amount of text available online. For comparison, correct forms have higher counts (e.g. "had been spent" has over 20 million results; "was being spent" 1.6 million) than "was been spent", which has about 50,000 results. The also incorrect "was be spent" has about 80,000 results, i.e. in a similar range.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sun, 09/01/2022 - 15:39

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Hello Team. Could you please help me?
- I have just read a text in which there is the following sentence: "I try hard to finish my homework on time, but I can never get it all done."

- I can't understand "get it all done". Is it causative? Is there anyone doing my homework for me? I'm confused.
Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

"Get something done" can be causative (e.g. I get my hair done at the hairdresser's), but in this sentence it isn't. It's a different meaning - to complete a task.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Although I couldn't find a dictionary entry for it to refer you to, I can assure you that 'get it done' is a very common phrase that means 'complete'. In this case, it's not a causative, because the subject completes the action, not another person. If I say 'I can never get all my homework done' it means 'I can never complete all my homework'.

When 'get' + object + infinitive is causative, it means that someone else (not the subject) performs the action. The sentence 'I got my car fixed' means that I arrange for someone else to fix my car.

Let us know if you have any other questions.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Tue, 04/01/2022 - 19:06

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Hello. Could you please help me? What is the difference in form and meaning of the following sentences?

1- Did you have anyone to help you?

2- Did you have anyone help you?

Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

In 1, the question asks if a person who could help you was present or available. Here the structure is 'have' + object + 'to' infinitive; you could change it in many different ways, e.g. 'have anything to do', 'have any meetings to attend'. There are many, many uses in which an infinitive can be added to an object in a similar way.

The second sentence shows a somewhat more specific use, that of 'have' (or 'get') in a causative structure. It asks if you arranged for another person to help you. Here the structure is the verb 'have' + object (a person as subject) + bare infinitive. This can be used when speaking about arrangements you made with people in which they do something.

Another common causative structure uses 'have' + object (person or thing) + past participle to express the idea that someone arranges for a task to be done. For example, if I hire some workers to paint my house, I can say 'I'm having my house painted'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Sat, 04/09/2021 - 05:04

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Respected team, In 1890, (faced) with the growing difficulty of accommodating immigrants at Castle Garden in Manhattan, the government decided to turn Ellis island into an immigration station. Is the verb (face) passive form? If so what has happened to (to be) verb? And if possible please direct me to some more examples on the net. Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour.

In this sentence 'faced' is a past participle which heads a participle clause. It is not a passive form but it has a passive meaning, so your question shows that you understand the meaning here.

 

We have a page on participle clauses which should be helpful. As you'll see, participle clauses with a past participle have a passive meaning and participle clauses with a present participle (verb-ing) have an active meaning. You can find the page here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-intermediate/participle-clauses

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Sun, 29/08/2021 - 07:37

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Hi there brilliant team I want to know something about following sentence "The desk was littered with papers." Here I think' papers' is the subject and the right sentence should be /The desk was littered by papers.\. Because who or what littered the desk? It's answer is 'papers'. I would be grateful if you could clear up my confusion.

Hi Nevi,

The correct form here is 'with'.

The papers are not performing the action here. They are the tool which is used, so to speak.

If you want to see the sentence as a passive then the subject in the sentence is 'the desk'. No agent is provided because it is unknown or irrelevant, but an agent could be added:

The table was covered with papers by the team.

However, I would not see this sentence as a passive at all. 'Covered' here describes a characteristic of the desk rather than an action performed on it. Many past participles can be used as adjectives and I would simply treat this as an adjective, just as we do with 'interested', 'bored', 'dressed' and so on.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Wed, 30/06/2021 - 06:02

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Sir, 'stopped and blocked' are an adjective also?

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 30/06/2021 - 06:33

In reply to by Rsb

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Hello Rsb,

Yes, both of those words can function as adjectives:

A stopped car can cause big problems on the motorway.

We have several blocked streets after the earthquake.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Pete sir, If I want to use these adjectives with get For ex. My account got stopped or blocked automatically. Get' Is used as linking verb as change in state of subject 'my account'

Hello again Rsb,

That use is fine. It's a passive form using 'get' instead of 'be' as the auxiliary verb.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Pete sir, "My account is stopped or blocked" Can it have two meanings: 1. It is passive form using 'get' in place of be. It is present indefinite tense. 2. It is simple sentence stopped and blocked act as an adjective here. And get is main verb Am I correct?

Hello Rsb,

I think it is an adjective here describing the account. If you read it as a passive then it would be present simple, and you'd need a context to suit that such as 'my account is blocked every week' or similar.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Rsb and teacher, I also wanted to ask something about that grammar topic. For example There is a explanation in the dictionary about the adj. 'blocked' https://www.google.com/amp/s/dictionary.cambridge.org/amp/english/blocked However, there is no explanation in the dictionary about the adj 'stopped'. It directly says past simple and past participle of stop. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/stopped?q=Stopped I wonder why one participle adjective is shown in the dictionary and other is not. I would be grateful if you could clear up my confusion. Thank you in advance.

Hi Nevı,

Some dictionaries do list stopped as an adjective (e.g. the Collins Dictionary). 

Different dictionaries use different criteria for including or excluding words. One of these criteria is probably the frequency of usage - i.e., blocked as an adjective is probably more frequently used than stopped as an adjective.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Thu, 24/06/2021 - 13:59

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Sir, 'Aliyah gets hospitalized.' This sentence has two meaning: 1. It can be in passive form. Like Aliyah is/gets hospitalized by someone. 2. It can be simple present sentence where 'hospitalized' work as an adjective and 'gets' is a main verb/linking verb. Right sir? As per English grammar, we use 'get' in place of 'be' in passive construction. That rule only apply for simple present, past and future tense only. Ex. I break the window.( Active) The window is/gets broken by me .(passive) If I say, The window is being broken by me. Here, can't we use 'get' in place of 'be' This rule is not apply for continuous, perfect , perfect continuous tense ?

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 24/06/2021 - 15:18

In reply to by Rsb

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Hello Rsb,

The two uses of 'got' that you mention here are just two of quite a few. The sentence you use as an example is grammatically correct, but sounds a little unnatural to me because  there is dissonance between the use of 'get' as an informal passive auxiliary and the word 'hospitalized', which is not informal. Your example is grammatically correct, however -- I just wanted to point this out.

I'm not familiar with the rule you mention about 'get' not being used in passives in continuous or perfect forms, but it does sound like a good guideline in general. It does indeed sound odd to me to say 'The window is getting broken', but I don't think I'd go so far as to say it's incorrect.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir, Yes sir it sounds odd if I say 'the window getting being broken by me'. Overall, we use 'get' in place of be in two conditions: 1. Sentence should be in passive form. 2. Sentence should be of simple present, past and future only.

Hello Rsb,

I understand that perhaps this kind of summary is useful to you, but I wouldn't give my students this kind of thing. This is mainly because I think it's more useful to learn patterns, which allow for more diverse usages, than it is to learn rules, which tend to leave out important details. For example, I think it's important to note that 'get' is more informal than 'be'. I'd also not say it's wrong to use it in continuous tenses, though it is unusual.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Mon, 29/03/2021 - 13:47

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Hi great moderators and teachers, I don't understand one thing about the verb 'express' . While reading a text, I saw that and decided to learn how to use. For example when I say; 'I expressed my ideas to her'-->Active voice. But I am confused about how I can use with passive voice. "My ideas were expressed to her. " or 'She was expressed my ideas.' I think both of them. But I am not sure. Thanks a lot.

Hello Nevı,

Your sentence has a direct object (my ideas) and an indirect object (her). We use the direct object as the subject in passive voice:

My ideas were expressed to her.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot teacher Peter.I am very grateful. So the sentence "My ideas were expressed to her. " is more common. But the sentence 'She was expressed my ideas.'(passive with indirect object) is also true but less common. ??? Isn't it. Finally, British Council teachers and team are perfect. They help us and answer our questions. Thanks for your helps. Best wishes.

Hello again Nevı,

No, 'She was expressed my ideas' is not a correct sentence.

As I said, we use the direct object as the subject in a passive sentence, not the indirect object.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Tue, 23/03/2021 - 15:44

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Hi great teachers Peter, Kirk and Jonathan. I want to learn new things.And I am confused about one thing. While I reading a text to improve my skills, I didn't understand one word which is 'thronged' in that sentence -The streets were thronged with shoppers.- Then I looked different dictionares and one of them said 'be thronged with' is phrasel verb.(Oxford Dict.) Second one said 'thronged' is an adjective and it's structure is "verb-link ADJECTIVE with noun" (Collins Dict.) To sum up, I am very confused. Is ' be thronged with ' an adjective pattern or a 'phrasel verb'? Maybe a grammar topic haven't known anything about. Thank you a lot

Hello Nevı,

I'm surprised by the definition you found in the Oxford Dictionary and don't know how to explain that. I see something different in the Lexico UK dictionary (which is based on the Oxford Dictionary) win the definition for 'throng'.

What Collins says makes sense to me, and matches what Cambridge and Longman show as well. In other words, I'd recommend you view it as an adjective formed from the past participle of the verb 'throng'; it often collocates with the preposition 'with', but there are other patterns as well.

It's always a good idea to check several sources.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dipakrgandhi on Fri, 12/03/2021 - 16:50

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Sir, we cannot say 'your suggestions are welcomed' but say your suggestions are welcome because welcome is treated as an adjective here. We can say 'they were welcomed by us' but why can't we say 'you are welcomed by us' or 'your suggestions are welcomed by us.' and why only 'your suggestions are welcome' Regards

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 13/03/2021 - 08:00

In reply to by dipakrgandhi

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Hello dipakrgandhi,

It's important to recognise the communicative function here, as it is not the same for all of these sentences.

 

When we are describing a fact in the world, we can use these sentences:

They were welcomed by us.

You are welcomed by us.

You suggestions are welcomed by us.

All of these sentences are correct. For example, a hotel might say this to its guests:

We are a friendly and open business, so all of your suggestions are welcomed by us.

 

However, sometimes the function is not simply to describe a fact. For example, Your suggestions are welcome has the function of encouraging people to make suggestions.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rafaela1 on Mon, 22/02/2021 - 14:11

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John has been asked to get dressed by the staff. "You are supposed to wear a cloth in public. Hurry up! The meaning is scheduled to start soon." ;)

Submitted by Rsb on Sun, 21/02/2021 - 10:29

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Sir, 1. This is to inform you that below mentioned employee's cab delayed in arriving office at standard time. (Verb delay intransitive) past indefinite tense 2. This is to inform you that below mentioned employee's cab was delayed in arriving office at standard time.( Here, Delayed as an adjective) simple past sentence Both the sentences are correct when I use the word delay as an adjective and verb (intransitive) in the context?

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 22/02/2021 - 13:48

In reply to by Rsb

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Hello Rsb,

'delay' is a transitive verb, so I'm afraid the first sentence is not correct. If you look up the word in the dictionary, you'll see some useful example sentences.

The second sentence is a bit awkward in standard British English, but its use of 'delayed' is correct.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir , But in dictionary 'delay' is described as an ergative verb. And can I use "to arrive office" in place of 'in arriving office'? This is to inform you that employee's cab was delayed/late to arrive/reach office at standard time.

Submitted by Jonathan R on Tue, 23/02/2021 - 03:38

In reply to by Rsb

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Hi Rsb,

Actually, delay has several meanings! For the meaning of 'to make something late', it's only transitive (see the second meaning of delay in the Cambridge Dictionary). It's not intransitive or ergative for this meaning.

About the arrive phrase, it should be: The employee's cab was delayed (in) arriving at the office. You can use it with or without in. It has the same meaning.

Using 'to + verb' (to arrive at the office) doesn't work here, unless you want to show the purpose of the delay (e.g. The event was delayed, to give us more time to prepare).

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Thu, 11/02/2021 - 10:51

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Sir, Cab was late . Can we use 'delay' in place of late? Cab was delay

Submitted by Jonathan R on Sat, 13/02/2021 - 06:19

In reply to by Rsb

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Hi Rsb,

Delay is a noun and a verb but not an adjective, so we should use the -ed form here: The cab was delayed.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Sat, 13/02/2021 - 07:54

In reply to by Jonathan R

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How delayed is noun here sir? It is not behaving like an adjective describing the cab noun

Hello Rsb,

I just wanted to point out that Jonathan didn't say that 'delayed' is a noun -- he said that 'delay' is a noun. In this sentence, 'delayed' is an adjective.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Can't we write "cab was delay"? What kind a noun is delay?

Hello Rsb,

I'm afraid that isn't correct. I'd suggest you study the example sentences you can find in a few online dictionaries -- I think that should clarify to you how it is used.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir "cab was delayed" It has two meanings :- 1. It is a passive voice that the cab was delayed by someone. Subject is silent 2. It is simple past sentence, delayed is an describing the cab which is noun. Am I correct ? what kind a noun is delay ? And also what kind a noun is 'shift'? For ex. Shift gets over at 6am

Hi Rsb,

Yes, that's right! The sentence has those two meanings. Note though that the noun cab needs an article before it (probably the).

I don't understand what you mean by 'what kind of noun'. Do you want to know the meaning, or whether the noun is countable or uncountable? If so, I'd recommend using the dictionary for both of these. Have a look at these Cambridge Dictionary pages for delay and shift.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Tue, 16/02/2021 - 16:45

In reply to by Jonathan R

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Yes sir about countable or uncountable noun what I want to ask. Delay and shift comes under which things(person,place, object )

Hi Rsb,

OK, I see now! In those dictionary pages, after noun, it shows C if it's countable, U if it's uncountable, and C and U if it's both. Delay and shift are abstract things.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by eager2know on Tue, 09/02/2021 - 18:38

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Hello Dear Teachers, I am having issues with understanding the object in Active voice to be placed as a subject of the Passive Voice. For example, I am not sure what the obj is in the following examples (how many words): e.g.Repair another table for this class. (two days ago) - Another table for this class was repaired two days ago. - Another table was repaired for this class two days ago.