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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Soumis par Akash Rathore le ven 05/04/2019 - 06:52

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Please help me clarify Which one is correct? Johnny is being interrupted because he has perpetrated heinous crime. Or Johnny is being interrogated because a heinous crime has been perpetrated by him.
Hello Akash Rathore, The verb in the first sentence should be 'interrogated' rather than 'interrupted', and both sentences should have 'a' before heinous. The choice between active and passive is really on of style as both are grammatically correct. In my view, the active version is much more likely and has a better style in most contexts. Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par thyngoc1985 le ven 01/03/2019 - 06:29

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Dear The LearnEnglish Team Please help me. Which one is correct? 1. The car hasn't been sold by John yet. 2. The car hasn't been sold yet by John.

Hello thyngoc1985

When 'yet' is used as an adverb, it usually comes at the end of a sentence, so 1 is better.

Actually, unless it's important to mention that John is the one selling the car, it would be much more common to just say 'The car hasn't been sold yet'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par AFS le mer 20/02/2019 - 21:59

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Hi there. What is the negative form of a passive voice sentence like: "The exercises have to be done." Is it, "The exercises don't have to be done"?

Hi AFS,

There are two possibilities:

The exercises don't have to be done.

The exercises have to be not done.

 

The first means there is no obligation – it's fine if they are not done.

The second, which is an unusual form but still quite correct means they must not be done. We would usually choose the form must not be rather than have to be not, but it is a correct form.

 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par dipakrgandhi le mer 13/02/2019 - 15:32

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Sir, Please bear with me if my question looks long. I always ask very short questions, but this is to help my son with his exam preparation. This is the question on change of narration in one book : When they had assembled in front of him , he said ," When I asked you yesterday if you were happy with your lives, all of you said you were contented and did not need anything more. Yet, today I can see the sadness in your faces when you had to leave behind the riches you had gathered in my garden. If you were really happy with your lives, why did you gather the jewel fruits, and why are you so sad now? " The answer given in the book is : When they had assembled in front of him he said that when he asked them the previous day whether they were happy with their lives, all of them had said that they were contented and needed nothing more. He added that yet he could see that day the sadness in their faces when they had to leave behind the riches they had gathered in his garden. He further asked that if they were really happy with their lived why they had gathered the jewel fruits and why were so sad that then. I have few doubts about this answer : 1)For 'I asked you' : It should be he had asked them ... in place of he asked them. 2) for ' if you were happy ' : It should be whether they had been happy - in place of whether they were happy. 3) For ' you were contented ' : It should be they had been contented - in place of they were contented. 4) For ' if you were really happy ... ' : It should be whether they had been really happy - in place of whether they were really happy. Please share your view and bear with me if it is a long post.

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le mer 28/11/2018 - 19:41

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Could you please help me? Scientists had ten students (move - moving) into a house with a garden. Are both of them correct? If so, Is there a difference in meaning? Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Both are indeed possibly correct, though the second one is quite unusual. The first one is a causative structure -- follow the link to see more examples of this. The second could possibly be used to describe, for example, a stage in some kind of social science experiment, but again, this would be quite unusual and perhaps best expressed another way.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Siuyang le mar 13/11/2018 - 04:06

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Dear LearnEnglish Team, I am confused with where to put the "by xxx" in the following sentences. 1. The circus boss pays money to the driver. A: Money is paid by the circus boss to the driver. B: Money is paid to the driver by the circus boss. 2. Helen's mum invites us to Helen's birthday party every year. A: We are invited to Helen's birthday party by Helen's mum every year. B. We are invited by Helen's mum to Helen's birthday party every year. What are the rules to follow in deciding its position? Many thanks, Siuyang

Hello Siuyang,

The most common position for the by-phrase is at the end of the sentence, so the most natural options would be as follows:

Money is paid to the driver by the circus boss.

We are invited to Helen's birthday party every year by Helen's mum.

 

Sometimes putting the by-phrase at the end separates it too far from the verb, and then we prefer to move it earlier. Thus the second sentence might also be:

We are invited to Helen's birthday party by Helen's mum every year.

 

It is possible to put the by-phrase in other positions, as in your examples, when we want to emphasise it for some reason. For example, if it were surprising or important for some reason that it is Helen's mum who invites us then we might say:

We are invited by Helen's mum to Helen's birthday party every year.

 

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Peter. Thanks very much for your very clear explanation. Cheers, Siuyang

Soumis par Lal le ven 28/09/2018 - 09:11

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Hello Sir Thank you very much for giving me clear answer to my last question under active voice and passive voice. The sentence given below I have copied from a website. ' What is grown in these fields? The verb 'grown' is transitive or intransitive. I would like to know whether the above question is passive or not?. For example if I write: 1)'What is grown in these fields by farmers? Is it right to say:2) 'What do farmers grow in these fields? What I would like to know from you? Is the question one passive and the question two is the active voice of it? Please let me know. Thank you. Regards Lal

Hi Lal,

Many English verbs can be used both transitively and intransitively, and 'grow' is one of them -- this is what [I] or [T] or [I or T] means after each dictionary entry (follow the link to see what I mean). 

Yes, in 1, 'grow' is transitive -- any verb in the passive must be transitive, as intransitive verbs aren't used in the passive voice. And yes, 2 is the closest version of 1 in the active voice.

Good work!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ataur Rahman le lun 10/09/2018 - 17:17

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"What class does he read in?" - What is the passive voice of the active voice? Is it possible to transfer it into passive? Explain, please.

Hello Ataur Rahman,

Passive voice is only possible when we have a transitive verb, meaning a verb which has a direct object. Your sentence does not contain such a verb and so no passive is possible.

A more natural way to say this, I think, would be to use 'study' instead of 'read', or to simply say 'What class is he in?' Neither of these sentences have passive forms either.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Mansoor Banglani le dim 09/09/2018 - 12:33

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Can this sentence be changed into passive: Flowers have grown all over the field.

Hello Mansoor Banglani,

'Grow' here is an intransitive verb (it has no object) and so no passive voice is possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Prap le ven 07/09/2018 - 13:50

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I wanted to know If we can turn the following sentences into the passive : (i) I wanted to do that a week ago. (ii) What will he think, if we are late again? It is taught that intransitive verbs have no passive counterparts.In the dictionary entries for 'want' and 'think' both are described as being transitive and intransitive. I, therefore, cannot decide whether 'want to' (in sentence 1) and 'think' (in the main clause of sentence 2) can be used in the passive or not. Please, help me out. Thank you in advance!

Hi Prap,

Neither 'want' nor 'think' are intransitive verbs because they can both take an object ('I want some tea', 'I think thoughts'). That said, it is a bit unusual to use them passively. You can say 'This child is wanted' or 'It is thought that', but these are not used in a general context as an alternative to the active voice.

You could make the second clause of (i) passive and get a natural-sounding sentence: 'I wanted that to be done a week ago'. A passive version of (ii) ('What will be thought if we are late again?'), however, is very strange indeed, precisely because this kind of question is focusing on the person who does the thinking, and that person is de-emphasised in the passive voice.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par fernandoricagno le ven 22/06/2018 - 01:21

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Really , I cannot understand this example of passive voice . Someone sent her a cheque for a thousand euros >> She was sent a cheque for a thousand euros. I understood that should be A cheque for 1000 euros was sent to her . Please could you help me . Thanks

Hello fernandoricagno,

Give is an example of a very with two objects, one direct (her in your example) and one indirect (a cheque). This verb can form active sentences in two ways (I'll simplify your example to make the explanation clearer):

1 - Paul sent a cheque to her.

2 - Paul sent her a cheque.

 

The passive form is different for each:

1 - A cheque was sent to her (by Paul)

2 - She was sent a cheque (by Paul)

 

You can read a detailed explanation of why this is the case on this page if you're interested in the grammatical justification.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sandyA,

I think two changes are needed. First of all, we would not use 'is' here but (depending on the context) you could say has arisen. Second, you would need an article so you would say either an issue or the issue, again depending on the context.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par gusanodvr le mer 16/05/2018 - 00:25

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Hi!!!! Can someone help me know if my answers in this exercise are correct? 1.- We recycle 40 per cent of our paper. Passive: 40 per cent of our paper is recycled by us. 2.- We select candidates bases on their experience and qualifications. Passive: Candidates are selected by us based on their experience and qualifications. 3.- In 2000, companies produced 101 million bicycles and 41 million cars worldwide. Passive: 101 million bicycles and 41 million cars were produced by companies worldwide, in 2000. 4.- The USA grows 40 per cent of al corn. Passive: 40 per cent of all corn is grown by the USA. 5.- In the 1998, the USA imported $4 billion worth of fruit. Passive: $4 billion worth of fruit was imported by the USA, In 1998. 6.- In 1993, people spent $2 billion on exercise equipment in the USA. Passive: $2 billion were spent by people on exercise equipment in the USA, In 1993. 7.- Australian universities enrolled 600,000 students in 2005. Passive: 600,000 students were enrolled by Australian universities in 2005.

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 16/05/2018 - 07:21

En réponse à par gusanodvr

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Hi gusanodvr,

I'm afraid we don't provide this kind of service. We're happy to provide help and explanations of our own materials, or to help where we can with more general questions about the language or culture, but we don't check materials from elsewhere. If we tried to do this then we would end up doing our users' tests and homework for them, which is not our role. In any case, we are a small team here and we simply don't have the resources to provide this kind of service.

If the exercise is from a book then a key should be provided. If a teacher gave it to you then the teacher should check it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Amanda le sam 21/04/2018 - 03:40

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Hi Sir, May I know if the structure of the following two sentences are acceptable. 1) He was scolded for being late by the teacher yesterday. 2) He was scolded by the teacher for being late. Is "for being late" considered as an object or purpose? Thank you.

Soumis par Peter M. le sam 21/04/2018 - 07:14

En réponse à par Amanda

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Hi Amanda,

Both sentences are fine. The position of the phrase for being late is flexible.

The phrase is an example of a prepositional phrase. This is made up of a preposition (for) and an object (being late). Prepositional phrases can have adjectival or adverbial functions in the sentence and in your example it has an adverbial function.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Prap le lun 02/04/2018 - 19:56

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Dear sir, Would you mind telling me which of the following sentences you would prefer and why? (i). I have a lot of work to do. (ii) I have a lot of work to be done. Thank you in advance.

Hello Prap,

Neither sentence is incorrect but the first sentence sounds more natural to me. The passive form is more often used with 'there' as the subject. I think these three forms are most likely here:

I have a lot of work to do

There is a lot of work to do

There is a lot of work to be done.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Arvind Kumar Singh le dim 11/03/2018 - 16:40

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The goods have been replaced last night by the grocer. Weather this sentence is right or wrong? If it is right then what will be active of the sentence .

Hello Arvind Kumar Singh,

The verb in this sentence should be in the past simple ('were replaced') instead of the present perfect ('have been replaced') since the action took place in a finished past ('last night').

The active voice of the sentence with the past simple would be 'The grocer replaced the goods last night'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par MilaTong le jeu 01/03/2018 - 15:30

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Can I say "I give him some money" as an active sentence? It doesn't sound correct to me but my school wrote it on the board to be changed into passive voice.

Soumis par Arvin2017 le jeu 08/02/2018 - 05:38

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Dear Sir, Is there any difference in meaning between these two sentences : The box must have been dropped. The box must have got dropped. Regards, Arvin

Hello Arvin,

No, there is no difference in meaning, though the second one would sound inappropriate in formal situations. But there is no difference in meaning.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Andrew international le jeu 18/01/2018 - 08:13

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Dear Sir I am asking this question to make sure when we use 'by' to show the doer in passive sentences. Eg. The tree was cut by me. The letter was written by the manager But 'the tree was cut with an axe. The letter was written with a pen. In both these sentences 'with is used instead of 'by'. but in this, for eg. The buildings were destroyed by a violent wind. Now what I would like to know is " Why we use 'by' to show the doer in some and 'with' to show to name the doer. I thought 'by' is for persons and a 'with' is for a thing for eg an axe. a pen. Now I know; I am wrong. Is there any rule? Please let me know. Thank you.

Soumis par xsman le mar 16/01/2018 - 14:46

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Hello, My question is regarding the passive form of a sentence that is called "to" passive. For example Some locals say that Ali makes delicious food. Ali is said to make delicious food. . . In the same manner what would be the passive form of this sentence underneath? A large number of people will believe that x-league is a corrupt political party.

Soumis par Andrew international le mar 16/01/2018 - 06:54

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Dear Sir Thank you very much for explaning well my last question about the 'reduced relative clause.' Now it is very clear. I am sorry that didn't write the full sentence. Now I have aother question. Please explain this since I am not sure what the reason is exactly. 1.The letter was written by me. 2. The letter was written with a pen. 3. The tree was cut by me. 4.The tree was cut with an axe. 5. The building was destroyed by a cyclone. I was told the No. 1 is person so 'by me' No. 2 is agent (pen so 'with') I understood that but for No. 5 'by cyclone' but cyclone is not a person therefore what I was told is wrong. Again I thought the cyclone itself did it without anyone's help or using it like the 'pen' and 'the axe.' Is that the reason? I am I correct or wrong. Thank you.

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 17/01/2018 - 07:41

En réponse à par Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

We use a prepositional phrase with 'by' to indicate the agent of a passive verb action, and a prepositional phrase with 'with' to show the tool or method used to perform the act. The agent does not have to be a person:

He was killed by the disease.

I was hit by the car.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir Thank you for explaning 'by' and 'with' in passive sentences to name the agent. It is very clear now. I am sorry I asked the same question again today (a few minutes ago). Thank you

Soumis par Andrew international le lun 15/01/2018 - 03:17

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Dear Sir I would like to know in this sentence the word 'used' which is past participle of use doesn't have a helping verb. Is it undestood the helping verb for eg 'are' but need not write it. I am I correct? The sentence is: Some verbs very frequently 'used' in the pasive ... This is given in the above website. Please let me know Thank you.

Soumis par Peter M. le lun 15/01/2018 - 08:14

En réponse à par Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

You need to quote the whole sentence here, not just a part of it:

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

 

The subject here is some verbs very frequently used in the passive. The verb is the passive form are followed and there is a prepositional phrase with by to show the agent (the doer of the action).

You can think of it as having a reduced relative clause:

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

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Andrew international le sam 13/01/2018 - 11:48

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Dear Sir This is not about active - passive. but I request you to explain this. 1. I look forward to hearing from you soon. 2. I am looking forward to hearing from you soon I think both are correct. I have come across these in formal letters mostly. But why two different tenses? Can I use either? Is first one is better than the second? Please let me know. Thank you. Regards

Soumis par Kirk le sam 13/01/2018 - 20:39

En réponse à par Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

Yes, both are correct. The context can make a difference sometimes, but in most cases there is probably no real difference in meaning. The continuous form (in sentence 2) could make the desire seem a bit stronger, but probably in most cases there is no difference.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team