Passives

Do you know how to use the passive voice to change the focus of a sentence?

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

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Submitted by Emad.E2022 on Thu, 07/04/2022 - 10:06

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First of all thank you for your tremendous job. My question is about the phrase: "my talk". In the section "Grammar test 2", question 7, it says: Someone [saw] my talk at the conference and recommended me as a speaker.
Can we consider "my talking" a better grammar, because of the formal structure which is: [possessive adjective + Gerund]?
Would you explain which one [My talk or My talking] is correct (or more correct) and why?

Hi Emad.E2022,

I'm glad to hear you find the site useful!

Talk is a noun. It means a conversation, discussion or speech. It's the best word choice in this sentence because the context is a conference, which has speeches or presentations. 

My talking is grammatically possible, but less preferred in this sentence since the gerund means the general doing of the activity (while talk is a particular unit of talking).

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Mr Jonathan, i would like to know if i can get a certificate from the british council doing all the free lessons, thanks!

Hi Fran96,

Certificates and digital badges (here) are available with our subscription courses (here) but not with our free access courses.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tony1980 on Mon, 29/11/2021 - 12:43

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Hi Peter
They report the defence minister is to resign.
1) It is reported that the defence minister is to resign.

They claim the terrorist is living abroad.
1) It is claimed that the terrorist is living abroad.
2) The terrorist is claimed to be living abroad.

Can you please tell me why the first sentence can’t have the number 2) construction of the second sentence.
I mean why can’t we say ;
The defence minister is reported to resign.
Is there a grammatical rule to prevent that?

Best regards
Andi

Hi Andi,

It is possible to use the second construction:
> The defence minister is reported to be resigning.
The meaning here is an ongoing action, similar to a present continuous construction.

When we use the construction 'reported to + verb' there is a general meaning; it describes a state or a typical action:
> He is reported to live abroad.
> She is reported to work in a hospital in London.

Obviously, a resignation is a single event, not a typical or habitual action or a state. Thus, 'reported to + verb' is not appropriate.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter
Thanks a lot for your explanation

Everyone thought he didn’t take the prize.
He was thought not to have taken the prize.

All the experts in the congress thought our wine was the best.
Our wine was thought to be the best by all the experts.

As you can see for two similar active sentences we have two different passive constructions.
Why the passive in the second sentence isn’t;
Our wine was thought to have been….
Or the passive in the first sentence isn’t;
He was thought not to take the prize.

Best regards
Andi

Hello again Andi,

The perfect form here (to have taken / to have been) is used when we want to make clear that the action described happened before and ended before the report. An example will help here:

> She was thought to have lived in Paris.
> She was thought to live in Paris.

In the first sentence she lived in Paris at some point but this ended before the time of the thinking, so to speak. In the second sentence she still lived in Paris at the time of the thinking.

In other words, we can use the normal infinitive form when something is still true at the time of thinking/expecting/believing etc.

In your examples, 'Our wine was thought to be...' is used because it is a fact which is still true at the time. However, the other example must be 'to have taken' because 'take' is an action which was completed at some point before the thinking took place.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sokhom on Sun, 24/10/2021 - 02:12

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Hello, Sir!
I'm sorry for asking a question which is not in the this context.
e.g. Everything in the sale has been reduced/lowered/decreased to half price.
The correct option is 'reduced' as it is associated with 'price'. The option, 'decreased' is not right because it has the structure 'something decreases' which personally it's not right in the passive sentence above. However, I think 'lowered' is also right in the sentence. So, I was wondering why 'lowered' is not correct in the sentence above.
Your explanation is a great help for me.
Best Wishes!

Hello Sokhom,

Generally, we don't explain answers from elsewhere as we have no way of knowing what the thoughts of the authors were, or even if we agree with them. The place to go with a question like this is to the authors of the task, who may have indicated particular guidelines in their instructions.

The question is really which of the options best collocates with 'everything'. Price here is not the subject, so 'reduced' is the best option in my view: lower a price, decrease a cost, reduce an item.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much for your reply, Sir. :)
e.g. Average house prices decreased by 13% last year. (Long man dictionary)
I was wondering if I could replace 'decreased' with 'reduce' and 'lower'.
e.g. Average house prices were reduced/lowered by 13% last year.
Thank you so much for your valuable time.
Best Wishes!

Hello again Sokhom,

You could use 'were reduced' or 'were lowered' here. This would be a passive form rather than the intransitive verb in the original.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Iryna_hn on Thu, 09/09/2021 - 12:41

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Could you please check if this sentence is correct: ... women put pins in their mouths TO AVOID BEING KISSED in the dark. And explain what tense or grammar structure of the Passive is that. Thank you in advance!

Hi Iryna_hn,

Yes, the sentence is correct!

The whole phrase you highlighted is a to-infinitive phrase (which shows the purpose of the action 'putting pins in their mouths'). It contains a passive -ing form ('being kissed'). The -ing form is needed because it follows the verb avoid (this verb requires the next verb to be in the -ing form).

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Yes, Jonathan, thank you! It all makes sense to me now! Is there any information here at the website about verbs followed by -ing? So I could get acquainted with the theme better.

Hi Iryna_hn,

OK, great! We have two pages about this verb pattern. Have a look at page one and two. I hope they are useful.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mussorie on Thu, 17/06/2021 - 20:27

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Could you please explain the below statement? Whether is the word "scheduled" used in this sentence an adjective ( like the subject complement) or a passive form? 1.President is scheduled to leave at 2:00 pm. In general, I have a query that how can we identify a past participle used in a sentence as an adjective or a passive structure?

Hello Mussorie,

It's often ambiguous whether a given item is a past participle or an adjective. Often the sentence can be read either way, and each is equally plausible. This is true even of very simple sentences:

He was fascinated.

He was fascinated (by the story).

It's really only a question of nomenclature. Personally, I prefer to use the term 'third form' to focus on the meaning and use of the item in the sentence rather than to attempt to label it as either an adjective or a passive construction. Thus, your example would be [verb3 (third form) + to infinitive]. You can use various other words in place of scheduled in this construction: expected, anticipated, believe, hoped etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mussorie on Tue, 15/06/2021 - 16:46

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Could you please explain the below statement, whether is it correct to use red (adjective), the colour with which I made them paint the house, at the end of the sentence to describe which colour or not? In causative form, I knew this structure below is correct, but the query is about the adjective at the end of the sentence. 1. I have my house painted red

Hello Mussorie,

As you say, the sentence is correct. The adjective 'red' here is an object complement: the verb is 'painted'; its object is 'the walls'; the object complement 'red' describes the object by stating what it becomes.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tony1980 on Sat, 08/05/2021 - 14:25

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Hi Kirk Thank you in advance for all of your earlier explanations and for those to come. You are really doing a great job. Imagine that you have found a Picasso in your attic. You make arrangements to auction it and then get a thrill as the escalate ever upwards. But then the dream 1. is / has been shattered. The painting turns out to 2. be / have been done by your uncle rather then Picasso. The correct answers are is on 1 and have been on 2 . Can you please give an explanation of why one option is correct and the other is not. As I’m running into difficulties in finding an explanation. All the best Andi
Profile picture for user Kirk

Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 09/05/2021 - 14:05

In reply to by Tony1980

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Hello Andi,

We often use present tenses to tell stories that actually occured in the past. In the story you cite, the events unfold in the present simple and so for 1 it makes sense to continue with the present simple since it's another action in sequence of actions. In 2, however, it's referring to something further in the past and so a perfect infinitive is used to show this.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk Thanks indeed for your response. It’s another sentence following the extract above. When no one is watching, you switch the labels and are / are being amused to see how people react. In this sentence Are is the correct answer . Can you explain please why the simple present and not present continues is possible here? Best wishes Andi
Profile picture for user Kirk

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 18/05/2021 - 08:20

In reply to by Tony1980

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Hello Andi,

In this case, 'be amused' is not a passive verb -- it's just the link verb 'be' with the adjective 'amused'. We don't normally use link verbs in continuous tenses. 

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk Thank you for your quick answer If “ are being amused “ was the correct answer since it is in passive it should be followed by “ by “ which refers to what amused them or him and not by an infinitive “ to see “ . Is this explanation of mine correct or not , according to you? All the best Andi
Hi Kirk Ok just ignore my previous comment as are being amused is not passive as you explained my fault. Best wishes Andi
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 19/05/2021 - 08:23

In reply to by Tony1980

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Hi Andi,

'are being amused' would probably be a passive form, actually, precisely because we don't normally use link verbs in the continuous, and so the use of a continuous form here would show that it was something different.

But using 'are being amused' would just not be correct here for the reason I mentioned aboe, as well as the infinitive 'to see' that follows.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tony1980 on Fri, 26/11/2021 - 18:10

In reply to by Kirk

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Hi Kirk
I came across this sentence;

The reason behind the new government strategy is impossible to understand.

Why is there an active infinitive instead of a passive one? I mean why the sentence isn’t;
The reason ……. Is impossible to be understood.

It is believed that the largest sea coral is near Norway.
Can we also say ;
The largest sea coral is believed to be near Norway.
Best regards
Andi

Hi Andi,

I'm not sure I can give you a reason why the structure exists but I can confirm that adjective + to infinitive is quite a common structure:
> That's hard to do.
> The task is difficult to do in one hour.
> The reason is impossible to know.

There is an implied prepositional phrase here:
> That's hard (for us) to do.
> The task is difficult (for anyone) to do in one hour.
> The reason is impossible (for anyone) to know.

Both sentences about the sea coral are correct.

You can see a list of some common adjectives which are followed by to-infinitive on this page:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/english-grammar-referen…

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I would like to know if this PV example is correct: "the kids were taught by my favorite teacher."

Submitted by Mussorie on Tue, 04/05/2021 - 14:23

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I think both the below sentences are correct. Do they convey the same meaning? If not, correct me where I go wrong, and explain to me the details. 1.It is bad being robbed(in this case, is being robbed acting as a complement to bad.) 2. Being robbed is a bad experience.

Submitted by Kaisoo93 on Thu, 22/04/2021 - 10:45

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Dear Teacher, "The changes to the tax system proved impracticable as they were impossible to enforce." I wonder if "they were" refers to "the changes", is it correct to change "to enforce" to "to be enforced" (become "The changes to the tax system proved impracticable as they were impossible to be enforced.")? Thanks

Hello Kaisoo93,

Yes, I understand 'they' to mean 'the changes to the tax system'; I don't see any other possibility in this specific sentence.

It wouldn't be correct to say 'to be enforced' here. The basic structure of the clause is an extremely common one in English: subject + 'be' + adjective + infinitive. In this case: subject ('they') + 'be' ('were') + adjective ('impossible') + infinitive ('to enforce'). Very often, such sentences begin with 'it': 'It's impossible to know the future'.

As far as I can think, the infinitive is always active in such sentences.

Hope this makes sense.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk, Thank you for the explanation. Are the following sentences correct? 1) These new discipline is difficult for the teachers to enforce. 2) The new discipline will be enforced by the teachers. 3) The teachers will enforce the new discipline. Thank you

Hello Kaisoo93,

Yes, except for 'These' in 1 (which should be 'The'), those sentences are all correct. Good work!

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maahir on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 11:41

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Hi there, thanks for the helpful lessons you always share with us. In exercise1, there is a question saying " The fire service still ___ the fire". with those options 1- wasn't put out 2- is put out 3- haven't put out. as i found out in the answer sheet, the correct answer option 3. so my question is, can we use "have" with singular?. I mean here we are talking about fire service which i think it's a singular. I hope you understood my question.

Hi Maahir,

Yes, you can use a plural verb here. You can also use a singular verb, so 'hasn't put out' would also be correct.

We can see institutions and organisations as single entities (with a singular verb) or as collections of people (with a plural verb). It's really just about how the speakers sees things.

Examples of institutions like this are: the army, the navy, the air force, Parliament, the health service, sports teams, the government, the police, the European Union, the United Nations etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by wasan0909 on Sun, 21/03/2021 - 22:15

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-they did not come to the party, they were on a trip -a storm is coming, it will be harder to get out -i haven't been out , it has been raining all day -we weren't in the house, when he broke in -i can't stand him, he is being rude -my phone died, but she fixed it -i missed you, i haven't seen you in awhile -she was watching TV, while i was cooking dinner hi can you please tell me if those sentences correct?

Hello wasan0909,

We're happy to help you with specific questions about a sentence or two, but I'm afraid our support doesn't include checking our users' texts or homework.

Except for sentences 4, 6 and 8, all of these are run-on sentences and need to be broken into two sentences where the comma is. That is more of a punctuation error than a grammar error, though.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Laura Oliva on Mon, 01/03/2021 - 20:20

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Which sentence in passive is correct? Active: There have been reports of children stealing from the school cafeteria Passive 1: Children have been reported to be stealing from the school cafeteria Passive 2: Children have been reported stealing from the school cafeteria. Thank you.

Hello Laura Olivia,

I think the first sentence is the best option, but the reason is rather complex.

 

First of all, we should note that the question here is not really about passive forms, but rather about the difference between these two constructions:

1. report sb to be + verbing

2. report sb verbing

You could rewrite your examples using 'People have reported...' and still use either form; the fact a passive form is used in your examples does not change the question of which of these forms is used.

 

I'm going to use a different context for the sake of clarity, and then we'll go back to your context for comparison.

The form report sb to be + verbing has the meaning 'we have information about the person's activity'. For example:

Someone reported him to be working on a new book.

He was reported to be working on a new book.

> There is information that he is working on a new book.

 

The form report sb + verbing has the meaning 'officially complain about someone while they are engaged in an activity'

For example:

Someone reported him working on a new book.

He was reported working on a new book.

> Someone complained (to the police, for example) while he was writing a new book. This complaint could be about anything - it does not have to be related to the book-writing activity.

 

Now, it is possible to see the form report sb + verbing as simply omitting 'to be', but I think this leads to ambiguity, which we generally try to avoid. This is why I think example 1 is the best option.

 

With reference to your context, I think the context is sufficiently clear that there is very little chance of ambiguity. Reporting theft is an expected action, so the sentence would be immediately understood. Thus, while the first example is better in my view, in this particular context I think the second is also acceptable.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aattttuujj on Mon, 01/03/2021 - 14:40

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hello, With the tense Present Simple the structure is is/are + past participle. What is the structure of the past perfect? i have to know the passive past perfect for my test but i don't know how to form it. thanks for the grammar tests already they help a lot.
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Tue, 02/03/2021 - 03:28

In reply to by aattttuujj

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Hi aattttuujj,

The passive in the past perfect is: had been + past participle. Good luck with your test :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kaisoo93 on Fri, 26/02/2021 - 05:50

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Hello Teachers, Are all verbs in sentence with structure like "how/how long/what/whether/who + to-infinitive" can be replaced with passive form without restructuring the sentence? For example: 1) Who "to hire" is decided by the management = Who "is hired" is decided by the management = Who "to be hired" is decided by the management 2) How much money "to allocate" to housing depends on various factors. =How much money "to be allocated" to housing depends on various factors. =How much money "is allocated" to housing depends on various factors. Thanks