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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Hello misam,

A good general rule is to use the active voice unless there is some reason to use the passive voice. There are a variety of reasons to use the passive voice, but in general there is an emphasis or interest in the action instead of who performed the action. The passive is used frequently in academic and scientific writing for this very reason. In most informal speaking, the passive is relatively rare, though it certainly can be used.

It might be useful for you to read some texts in the style of speaking or writing that you want to practise and to analyse their use of the passive voice. You could read newspaper articles at the BBC or in our Magazine, for example, and for conversations, take a look at our Elementary Podcasts or Big City Small World.

I hope this helps you.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Kirk And Peter Do me a favour please : Parents are to blame for not disciplining.. If it was ''parents are to be blamed'' i would understand but what does this mean in active?

Hello Eddi,

The first sentence refers to the present/general time and means that it is the fault of the parents; the second sentence ('...are to be blamed...') refers to future time - the fault with be placed on the parents in the future.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

He said, " do u like it"? In passive We should start with He asked or he asked me????

Hello ankur the learner,

It depends whether you want the verb 'said' to be in the passive or the verb 'like'. You could say:

'Do you like it?' was said (by him).

or

'He said 'Is is liked by you?'

However, these are really just grammar games. Neither sentence is a natural sentence in English and it's highly unlikely either would ever be used in normal English.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello ankur,

'He asked me if I liked it' is indeed correct and natural. By the way, this is called reported speech – follow the link if you'd like to learn more about that.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear the LearnEnglish Team members, I’ve read through your “Active and Passive Voice” page and totally understand what it says. I have a question though. Where exactly should we place the “by + (agent)” in passive sentences? I checked it out in a few books, one of which says it is to be put after the verb of a passive sentence while the others say at the end of a passive sentence. For short sentences like those on the “Active and Passive” page, I don’t have any problems with them. But when it comes to longer sentences, such as the following ones, I’ll have doubts about their positions. 1) All of the clothes will have been washed by Nancy at home by tomorrow. (It sounds natural and makes sense to me.) 2) All of the clothes will have been washed at home by tomorrow by Nancy. (It doen’t sound natural enough to me. Is it possible?) Are there any rules for placing the “by + (agent)” in passive sentences? In long sentences with adverbials of time, place, etc at the end, does the “by + (agent)” follow the verb rather than follow the adverbials? l’d be grateful if you would get back to me at your earliest convenience. Thank you! Rgds, bnpl

Hello bnpl,

There is no fixed rule for this; it depends on the speaker and is a question of style and the speaker's view of what sounds better. It is not a good idea to separate the 'by...' phrase from the verb too far, but in your examples both alternatives are fine.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi LE team Need help!!! Anudita asked him a question. Passive should be A-he was asked a question by anudita. Or B-a question was asked to him by anudita.

Hi ankur the learner,

Both of these sentences are possible, though we would say 'of him' in the second sentence. Which is preferable would depend upon the context and the speaker's intention.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello british council team.. thank you for all your work.. i would be grateful if you help me. '' Something better is needed'' is it passive here or like - ''shop is closed''

Hello Eddi,

Deciding whether a form like this is a passive form or an adjective is often a subjective decision, in which you could argue either way. I would say that '...is needed' here is a passive form with an implied 'by us', making the active form 'We need something better'.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Tell me plz which one is correct. Q. Father called up Angela on her birthday. Ans. Either On her birthday Angela was called up by her father Or Angela was called up by father on her birthday.
Please let me know which one is correct 'thermoghapic scan program are being initiated' or 'thermoghapic scan program will be initiated'.

Hello Afifa,

That really depends on what you want to say, as the time referred to in the two versions is different. Please note that 'program' be 'programs' in order to match the plural verb 'are being initiated'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

suppose my friend said something at that time to me. After 2-3 days i said his wording to 3rd person. eg. "i will arrange the passes for you for the pub".(Actually he didn't) how would i say it to 3rd person he told me that he will arrange the passes for the pub or he would arrange. my doubt is i would say that thing in past or present to the 3rd person. plz respond ASAP.

Hello tagrapankaj,

'he would arrange' would the correct form here, as you are referring to a speech event in the past which referred to a time after that past time.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi. I want to know if these sentences are correct. 1) The cake is covered with cream. 2) She is dressed in a chef uniform. Do they sound right?

Hello greyish,

Yes, those sound right to me. Good work!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team 

I cannot quite get a perfect answer to this question. Please look at the words in parentheses in the sentence below. Can you explain the grammar of these 4 words (in parenthesis). Here's the sentence and thank you in advance: Email is a prime example; in the past a letter 'had to be sent' using the postal system and to send a letter and receive a response back could take two weeks or a month.

Hello jwfltd56d,

I think you mean apostrophes rather than parentheses! Our main role here at LearnEnglish is to help users with our material and, while we're happy to try to help users with other questions about English when we have time, we don't provide a service for answering questions from elsewhere (other sites, homework, tests etc.) - if we tried to do so then we would not have time for anything else.

I can tell you that the construction is 'have to' (obligation) plus a passive infinitive form. You can use the grammar section to look up these forms and learn about them.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

'had to be sent' is perfect past aspect in passive voice. Aspect is an interesting thing because it marks the time of an event's completion relative to the time of utterance. One easy way to clarify/test if a sentence is passive voice is find a hidden "by." In that sentence you can say, "In the past a letter had to be sent by me..." You may find it interesting to look up transitive and intransitive verbs, also.
Hi LearnEnglish Team, Could you help me understand why the passive form is preferred in the following sentence? 'We are often faced with different and competing explanations for things that happen to us and around us.' I think the passive form doesn't sound natural in that sentence. May I know is there any difference if we do not use the passive form 'we are often faced with', instead we use 'we often face'? Thank you.

Hello Danielle,

There is no real difference in meaning between 'we face' or 'we are faced with'. I, too, prefer your formulation, but the other one is also correct, and, I suspect, more common.  You might find it useful to search for the two forms in a concordancer to see how they have been used in different sources, but if you prefer one form over the other, I'd just go ahead and use the one you prefer.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Rhetorically you are hiding the agent of the verb, which is something unknown or hidden anyway, something like "by life" or "by the gods" and so forth.
1) Work is done. 2) Work has been done. Sir, Can you specify significance of above mentioned two sentences on reader's or listener's mind. How to decide which sentence to be used. Regards

Hello rishi1234567,

The first sentence describes a general truth or typical state of affairs: people work, the work is done, people eat, the food is eaten etc.

The second sentence tells us about a particular event with a present result, as if to say 'look, the work has been done'. In most contexts we would add 'the' to the sentence ('The work').

Without knowing the context I can't say which sentence would be correct.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir, Greetings to all. First of all thank you so much for your kind assistance. I have a query regarding Pseudo Passive. Can we say that Pseudo Passive can be categorized in Causative and Non-causative form? Thanks a lot again. Regards, Sam

Hello iamsam1987,

The 'pseudo-passive' can refer to a number of different things. Please post a concrete example so we can be sure what you are referring to and we'll be happy to answer.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir, I came across an active sentence which was as follows "Roses smell sweet" and its passive voice was "Roses smell sweet when (they are) smelt''. I would like to know whether or not it is a correct transformation. I have some doubts about the active sentence itself. It has the Subject (Roses) but it does not have an obvious object and the basic requirements to change from active to passive are 1) Subject 2) Object 3) Transitive Verb Does 'smell' function as a transitive verb here ? Thank you so much in advance.

Hello iamsam1987,

In the sentence 'Roses smell sweet' the verb is intransitive and so there is no passive form of the sentence, as you say.

'Roses smell sweet when (they are) smelt' is a different sentence. The active form would be 'When you smell roses, they smell sweet'.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Could you please change these sentences into passive? a) Rose polished the shoes herself. b) Peter shall decorate his house at Christmas. c) Narayan stopped me from entering the hall. I am really confused on using by + agent,where do we have to write by+agent when there are time adverbials and some other words and phrases after object in the active sentences?

Hello KOIRALA NP,

Please try to do the transformation yourself first and then we will comment on it; this is a much better way to learn than to simply be given the answers!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello I need some help I am doing some grammar exercises and have come across an exercise where it asks me to answer in correct tense or voice would this me active or passive voice? I'm a bit confused. Thankyou

Hello chicca8080,

Yes, 'voice' here would refer to active or passive voice. Tense describes time reference (past or present) and aspect refers to perfective or continuous aspect.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi everyone, I am little bit confused about use of "was being and is being" in the report writing. For your info, Im working at CCTV monitoring center. So, I almost everyday will do an incident report. Which one is right if i want to write in report that I was observing the incident or something moving in the CCTV. For example, in my report "I observed the theft (was/is) being caught by policeman to the door at the corner of elevator. "Is or was" should i use?

Hello eddylearnenglish,

If I understand correctly, what I'd say in your report is 'I observed the thief being caught by a policeman at the door at the corner of the elevator'. (Note that 'theft' is a crime, and 'thief' is the person who commits that crime.)

In this case, as you'll have noticed, neither 'is' nor 'was' is used. This is because verbs of perception are generally followed by an object + verb in the -ing form when we are describing an event that we saw happening.

I hope that clarifies it for you, but if not, please let us know.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

sir do u tell me how to use of "let" ."Let the music be listened" .Is correct passive sentence?

Hello angelwaheed,

The sentence is almost correct but needs 'to' on the end:

Let the music be listened to.

This is an example of a passive infinitive form and 'let' can be followed with a regular infinitive or a passive infinitive:

Let us eat the food.

Let the food be eaten.

However, the form with the passive infinitive is quite rare in English and can sound quite old-fashioned or archaic.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

 

He has been there.(active) There has been been by him(passive) Is it right or wrong??

Hello Dil Gill,

I'm afraid that isn't correct. The verb 'be' as a main verb (here, 'has been' is the present perfect form of 'be') is only used in the active voice.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team