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 Adya's le ven 02/06/2017 - 03:07

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Thanks a lot for the reply. But this is not what my question related to. There are certain intransitive verbs which can be made transitive by adding a preposition to them, like 'laugh at', 'listen to', etc, and can be changed into passive as well. So, a sentence in the active like, "They listened to her in silence" may have a passive form, "She was listened to in silence". Here, 'listen', which is an intransitive verb, is made transitive by adding the preposition 'to' to it. My question is, do we have​ any set rule which intransitive verb can be made transitive and which cannot be? How do we know whether or not an intransitive verb can be made transitive by adding a preposition to it? Or, is there a fixed list of such intransitive verbs which only can be made transitive by adding a preposition to them, just as we have a list of ergative verbs? The verb 'laugh', which is an intransitive verb, is not an ergative verb, but it can be made transitive by adding 'to' to it. Thus 'laugh at' becomes a transitive verb. Then, why can't 'go to' be treated as a transitive verb? Which rule governs such a distinction between the two? Looking forward to your reply.

Hello Adya's,

As I said in my earlier answer, I don't think there is a rule which determines which verbs can and cannot be used in passive voice.

As you know, only transitive verbs can be used in passive voice. However, not all transitive verbs are used in passive voice. This is a question of convention rather than a grammatical rule. For example, it is possible to perform some grammatical gymnastics and create a formally correct passive voice sentence with 'go':

I went to the house.

The house was gone to.

There is nothing grammatically wrong with the second sentence here. Structurally it is fine and it makes sense. However, it is simply a convention of the use of English that we do not form this sentence or commonly use it. It might be possible to imagine a sentence like this in a very formal police report, for example, but it would sound rather awkward, I think.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Adya's le jeu 01/06/2017 - 07:27

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Hi Does it mean that every intransitive verb can be made transitive by adding a preposition to it? So, if the active sentence is like, "He went to London", can it be changed into passive as, "London was gone to by him"? I'm badly confused now.

Soumis par Kirk le jeu 01/06/2017 - 13:19

En réponse à par Adya's

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Hello Adya's,

No, I don't think that's what Peter meant. In general, verbs are either transitive or intransitive, though there is a class of verbs -- and I expect this is what you're referring to -- called ergative verbs (see also the Wikipedia entry).

Ergative verbs can be used transitively or intransitively. For example, the verb 'fly' can be intransitive ('Birds can fly') but in other cases it can be used transitively ('Pilots fly planes'). There are a few short lists on both of the pages I linked to above, and I expect you can find other lists by searching the internet for them.

Note that 'go' is not an ergative verb, so a sentence like 'London was gone to by him' is not correct.

I hope that clears up your confusion.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Adya's le mer 31/05/2017 - 08:32

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Hi Some intransitive verbs become transitive when prepositions are added to them, like 'listen to', 'laugh at', etc. Is there any set rule governing such conversion from intransitive to transitive, or do we have a fixed number of intransitive verbs which only can be thus converted? Do we have such a list containing those intransitive verbs which can be converted into transitive?

Soumis par Peter M. le jeu 01/06/2017 - 06:39

En réponse à par Adya's

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Hello Adya's,

I'm not aware of any such list or rule. Prepositions require an object so any verb which has a preposition will have an object and hence be transitive.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Adya's le mer 31/05/2017 - 02:25

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Hi How to treat the verb 'have', transitive, intransitive, or linking? In the sentence, "I have books", can we have the passive form as, "Books are had by me"?

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 31/05/2017 - 07:49

En réponse à par Adya's

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Hi Adya's

Certain stative verbs are not used in passive voice and 'have' (when used for possession) is one of these so we would not make a sentence like the one you suggested.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Mitesh Chetariya le sam 27/05/2017 - 07:30

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Plzz make passive voice 1. He will not keep you waiting 2. John will not tell you anything. 3. Nensi didn't write me a letter. 4. Sachin didn't throw a ball fast. 5. She didn't say anything to us. 6. Open the door

Hello Mitesh Chetariya,

I'm afraid we don't provide answers for tasks from elsewhere. We're happy to explain the material we have on our pages and, where possible, to provide more general information about the language but we can't provide answers to homework or tests from elsewhere.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

If I could give it a try. 1. You won't be kept waiting (by him). 2. You won't be told anything( by John). 3. A letter wasn't ( No letter was) written to me by Nancy/I wasn't written a letter by Nancy. 4. A ball wasn't thrown fast by Sachin. 5. Anything wasn't (Nothing was) said to us by her. 6. Let the door be opened (by you).

Soumis par Prakash le lun 22/05/2017 - 12:43

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can intransitive verbs be used in passive voice? e.g. come, go, cry, be

Soumis par feli3105 le ven 19/05/2017 - 19:21

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Hi, I want to know if these sentence transformations are correct: Active: Susan will have redecorated her flat by the end of the month. Passive: By the end of the month Susan's flat will have been redecorated. Active: Which car did the family eventually choose? Passive: Which car was chosen by the family? Thank you in advance.

Soumis par Kirk le sam 20/05/2017 - 14:33

En réponse à par feli3105

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Hello feli3105,

Good work! I can confirm that all of those sentences are grammatically correct. I'm afraid I can't confirm if your teacher will mark them as correct, however, as different teachers require different things. For example, in your last sentence, the idea of 'eventually' that is in the active one is not expressed. That may not matter for your teacher; on the other hand, it might, depending on how they see it.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par amikrishnendu le jeu 18/05/2017 - 03:51

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Voice change of "I am going to do the job" ? Is it "the job is going to be done by me". How do I explain the transform according to the rules of voice change?

Hello amikrishnendu,

Yes, that looks correct to me. In general, the idea is to make the object of the active verb into the subject of the passive verb. And the subject of the active verb becomes the agent of the passive verb, often expressed in a prepositional phrase with 'by'. Is that what you mean?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Andrew international le sam 13/05/2017 - 14:06

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Dear Sir I have a question about using by and with in passive voice. For e.g. The letter was written by me. The letter was written with a pen. I was told we use by for persons and with for agents but sometims I come acorss sentences like for eg. There were several accidents caused by the icy conditions. The buldings were destroyed by tsunami/tidal wave. Acooding to my knowledge they are agents so why we use 'by' Please help me to understand this. Thank you. Andrew international

Soumis par Kirk le sam 13/05/2017 - 17:33

En réponse à par Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

What were you told is correct in many situations, but I'd recommend thinking of 'by' as indicating the agent of the action and 'with' referring to an instrument. Sometimes the line between an agent and an instrument can be difficult to draw, but hopefully this gives you an idea.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par mutazalsir le sam 13/05/2017 - 13:07

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This explanation kind of difficult, i think its better to be explained by present simple then past simple and so on. thanks

Hello mutazalsir,

Have you tried the tasks? If you do well on the tasks, that's a good sign that you've understood the basics at least. If you have any specific questions about anything, please let us know.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par suliman ali 2000 le jeu 04/05/2017 - 15:26

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Hi.. Please could you tell me if this sentence is correct or not ''they went to that prison last year, but before that we had been being taken to more than 30 prison within 3 years''.

Soumis par Kirk le jeu 04/05/2017 - 15:48

En réponse à par suliman ali 2000

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Hello suliman ali,

I would suggest saying 'we had been taken' instead of 'we had been being taken', which is complex I don't anyone would ever say it. The prepositional phrase 'over the course of three years' instead of 'within three years' would clearly express the idea of duration better than a continuous verb form would.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ayyubkhan le ven 14/04/2017 - 16:12

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Could you help me to get rid of some hesitations: How do we write Present/Past/Future perfect continuous sentences in passive voice? For Instance, Active: John had been driving the car for two years before he sold it. Passive: The car had been being driven by John for two years. or The car had been driven by John for two years. Which passive sentence is correct?

Hello Ayyubkhan,

Both sentences are grammatically correct. The first sentence is a past perfect continuous passive and the second a past perfect simple passive. The first of these is quite unusual in English, partly because a very unusual context is required and partly because it is rather an awkward form because of the number of auxiliary verbs required, and so it is avoided where possible.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Nermeen Eletriby le dim 26/03/2017 - 14:45

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could you help me ,Which sentence is correct and why 1- We delegate our local agent to receive from you the certificate to be sent back to us . 2- We delegate our local agent to receive from you the certificate to be sending back to us . why we use " sent " in past participle , and what does it mean ?

Hello Nermeen Eletriby,

The second sentence is not grammatically correct. The first sentence is correct, but whether it would be suitable will depend on the context, of course.

'Sent' is used here because the construction to be sent is a passive form and we make the passive with the verb be and a past participle.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Solstice le ven 24/03/2017 - 18:03

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Hello.I'm squeezing my brains because I have a couple of doubts about adverbial phrases and order in passive sentences. Basically, I don't know how to deal with several adverbs and by subject. For example, The packet has been carefully delivered to John by his family recently to encourage him. Or, The packet has been carefully delivered to John recently by his family to encourage. And finally, what about prepositions and questions? Who was the email sent by yesterday? Who was the email sent yesterday by? Thanks a lot.

Hello Solstice,

Yes, this is a difficult point and one that ultimately is often a matter of style. Of the two versions of the first sentence, the second is more natural-sounding. If you're actually using this sentence in a text, I'd encourage you to consider changing it to the active voice, or perhaps communicating the idea of 'carefully' in another way. For example, you could say 'John's family recently sent him a package to encourage him' -- here I've taken out 'carefully' (which seemed unimportant to me, though of course I could be completely wrong!) and reworded it in the active voice.

But I understand you may not really be using this sentence in a real text, and are just asking about adverb position in general.

As for the second sentence, the second version is quite unnatural-sounding; I doubt you'd ever hear that, unless someone was adding details as they spoke. The first version is much better, though again, a more natural and common version of the same idea would be 'Who sent the email yesterday?' or even 'Who sent the email?' or 'Who was the email sent by?' -- the idea of yesterday would probably be expressed in a different sentence.

I hope my answer hasn't complicated the issue for you even more. That is certainly not my intention -- I mention these other possibilities (e.g. using the active voice) because that is the way English tends to be spoken.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Sreehari Sureshbabu le lun 20/03/2017 - 00:51

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I feel a bit dolorous, if a video would be present to explain on behalf of topic it would be sophisticating.

Soumis par Anita Learner le ven 24/02/2017 - 02:54

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Hi! Could you please explain how to use perfect infinitives in Impersonal Passive statements? Thank you in advance ;)

Soumis par Peter M. le ven 24/02/2017 - 08:37

En réponse à par Anita Learner

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Hi Anita Learner,

Do you have an example sentence? The comments sections here are not suited for long explanations of grammar rules in detail, but we can address specific examples. A concrete example is helpful also to make clear exactly what you mean, whereas describing structures with this kind of terminology is often confusing.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Peter M. le ven 24/02/2017 - 08:37

En réponse à par Anita Learner

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Hi Anita Learner,

Do you have an example sentence? The comments sections here are not suited for long explanations of grammar rules in detail, but we can address specific examples. A concrete example is helpful also to make clear exactly what you mean, whereas describing structures with this kind of terminology is often confusing.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, sure, that would be great! Which of the following passive staments is more accurate in: "The shareholders thought that the board had rejected the offer". The board was thought to have rejected the offer. OR The offer was thought to have been rejected by the board. Thank you so much ;) A.

Soumis par Peter M. le sam 25/02/2017 - 07:43

En réponse à par Anita Learner

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Hi Anita Learner,

Both options are grammatically correct. Both contain a passive form ('was thought to...'). The difference is that the first sentence contains a passive form followed by an active perfect infinitive ('to have rejected') while the second contains a passive form followed by a passive perfect infinitive ('to have been rejected'). Neither is wrong so it is a question of preference rather than accuracy.

I would probably choose the first option for two reasons. First, the sentence is less clumsy in my opinion. It is clearer and easier to follow. Second, and more importantly, the second sentence is ambiguous. Because you have two passive forms it is not clear which action is done 'by the board'. You can read the sentence to mean that the offer was rejected by the board or that the offer was thought by the board to have been rejected. In general, unless you are aiming for ambiguity, it is better to keep your writing as clear as possible.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, Thank you for your quick and clear answer, and for your time. Really helpful :)) All the best, A.

Soumis par paparna1986 le ven 10/02/2017 - 17:21

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you say this site helps the user to learn English then where are you fulfilling that purpose when you are not able to resolve our doubts. we can get the rules in grammar in any of the book but the doubts we ask you is never been discussed in any of the books. so we put doubts in front of you in a hope that we get solution. what is the use of this site when you cannot clarify doubts asked by us properly, clearly and relavently

Hello paparna1986,

LearnEnglish is a site which is offered entirely free of charge by the British Council. We have many thousands of users and a small team to provide support. Please note that while all of us are teachers, we are not your individual teachers; we provide what help we can to our community and deal with hundreds of comments every week. The comments sections have a particular role on the site, described on this page in the section entitled 'What are the comments sections for?' 

In the last few days you have posted five questions - more than one per day - and each of these has been answered within twenty-four hours, sometimes with lengthy answers providing explanations, links and examples, and all of this, as I mentioned, has been provided entirely free of charge. We hope the help we provide is useful to you and wish you good luck in your studies.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par paparna1986 le ven 10/02/2017 - 17:11

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is non-finite and infinitive one and the same

Hello paparna1986,

Verb forms can be divided into two categories: finite and non-finite. You can see the definitions for each on the pages linked.

The infinitive is one particular form of the verb. It is one of the non-finite forms. The words 'non-finite' and 'infinitive' are confusingly similar, but they are quite different. The infinitive is one form; non-finite describes all forms which fit certain criteria.

The term 'finite' and 'non-finite' are linguistic terms which are useful for academic analysis of the language system, but are not particularly useful for learning to use the language, which is why we do not focus on the distinction on this site. Our focus is on meaning and use, not technical linguistic analysis.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par omeshwar narain le sam 21/01/2017 - 12:55

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what will be the passive voice of the following sentences :- 1. She dare not disobey me.

Hello omeshwar narain,

In this sentence, 'dare' is used intransitively; intransitive verbs have no passive form. Therefore I'm afraid there is no direct way of transforming this into the passive voice.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Msqawasmeh1 le mar 10/01/2017 - 10:36

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How to change the sentences that include "be used to" to passive. Like this one : "We are used to living in the city now".

Hello Msqawasmeh1,

I'm afraid that 'be used to' doesn't have a passive form. This is because the verb in this construction is 'be', and 'be' doesn't have a passive form. 'used to living' is almost like an adjective, just as in 'I'm tired'; although 'tired' is formed from the verb 'tire', in this case it is used as an adjective.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par anjulaawasthi le lun 09/01/2017 - 08:34

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What is the correct passive voice sentence of this : Rehan will have written the novel by tomorrow. a) The novel will have written by Khan by tomorrow. b) The novel will have been written by Khan by tomorrow. c) The novel will be written by Khan by tomorrow. d) The novel will have been written by Khan by the next day.

Hello ajnulaawasthi,

Only sentence a) is grammatically incorrect. Sentence b) is the one that is closest to the original sentence, except of course in that it uses the passive instead of the active voice.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par amol le lun 26/12/2016 - 13:06

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Hello Why can't we make passive of following tenses: 1. present perfect continuous tense 2. past perfect continuous tense 3. future perfect continuous tense 4. future continuous tense