Passives

Passives

Do you know how to use the passive voice to change the focus of a sentence? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

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

Language level

Average: 4.2 (97 votes)

Submitted by Kieronimo on Tue, 13/02/2024 - 10:59

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Firstly, it is my understanding that when we use the past participle in this way, it is no longer the past participle but the 'passive verb'. The past participle always follows a form of the verb 'to have', but the passive verb always follows a form of the verb 'to be'.

Secondly, question 7 (on the second grammar test) is not an example of the passive voice.

"Someone saw my talk at the conference and recommended me as a speaker."

This sentence uses the the verb 'to do' in it's past form (did). It's hidden in the conjugation. If we un-conjugate the verbs in the sentence, it reads:

"Someone did see my talk at the conference and did recommend me as a speaker."

Therefore, this sentence is in past simple tense. In order for it to be in the passive voice, it needs to use a form of the verb 'to be' and a 'passive verb'.

Hello Kieronimo,

That's an interesting point about the term 'past participle'. Since the resources on our website are for learners, we've used the most common terminology.

Thanks also for your observation about question 7. We included a non-passive form as a kind of challenge, but can see how this could be confusing. We'll consider changing this.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by nino23 on Sun, 04/02/2024 - 16:22

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Hi,
i have a question about a sentence that i came across.
"8 year old me was convinced that she was Indian".
is the word "convinced"here used in the passive form or is it an adjective. how can i distinguish this easily.
with sentences like the door was painted or the cookies were made by him, the passives here looks very obvious to me but in the sentence above i had a little confusion. i hope you can help me out

Hi nino23,

The passive will normally have an agent phrase (e.g. I wasn't sure whether to apply for the promotion but I was convinced by my colleagues to go for it). Since there is no strong idea of any agent causing the convincing in your example, it's probably an adjective. 

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by PiotrM on Wed, 31/01/2024 - 11:38

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Hello,

A quick question, there was an example given at my daughter's English lesson :
This seems to be a successful makeover. Susan/remodel/her cheekbones.
With the correct sentence given as: Susan has had her cheekbones remodeled.
Why "has had" is to be used? Is that because of the Present Simple used in the first sentence.. "seems"?

Hi PiotrM,

This structure is called the causative "have". To "have (something) (done)" means to receive that action from somebody else, normally as a professional service. For example:

  • Yesterday I had my hair cut.
  • The trousers were too long so I took them to the tailor and had the legs shortened.
  • The car was making a strange noise so I took it to the garage and had it checked.

As you can see, the structure shows an action. Turning to your example sentence, the action of remodelling must logically have happened before the present moment, so the present perfect "has had ..." is used. A past simple form (Susan had her cheekbones remodelled) is also possible, but the present perfect is preferable because the remodelling is clearly relevant to the present topic of conversation.

Incorrect answers would include Susan (has) remodelled her cheekbones, since Susan received rather than performed this action. Instead, the causative "have" is needed.

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Sokhomkim on Sun, 29/10/2023 - 03:44

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Hello, Sir!
1. We seem to miss one book. (Active Infinitive)
2. One book seems to be missed. (Passive infinitive)
3. We seem to be one missed. (one = one book)
Is the sentence 3 passive? Are the sentences 1 and 3 the same?
Thank you in advance for your time.

Hello Sokhomkim,

I'm afraid that none of these sentences are correct. Could you explain in other words what you mean to say with them? For example, if we normally have 10 books but now there are only 9, we could say 'One book is missing' or 'One book seems to be missing' (similar to sentence 2). It's also possible to say 'We seem to be missing one book' (sentence 1). But I don't understand sentence 3.

In the sentences I wrote, 'missing' is an adjective.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Thank you very much, Sir.
Your example is what I mean.
- We seem to be missing one book. ( "to be missing" is continuous infinitive with the object "one book, isn't it?)
I wanted to know if I can use "the simple infinitive (to miss one book) or it has to be "continuous infinitive (to be missing one book). And can I change your sentence using the passive infinitive?)
- One book seem to be being missed (by us).
Thank you so much for your time.

Hello Sokhomkim,

I think the root of the confusion here is two different meanings of the word 'missing'.

1) The first meaning refers to something that we can't find; in this case, 'missing' is an adjective. So if this sentence means that we can't find one book, then 'to be missing' is not a continuous infinitive. Instead, it is the simple infinitive 'to be' and the adjective 'missing'.

2) The second meaning refers to a person or thing that is not with us and whose absence makes us sad; in this case, it is a form of the verb 'to miss'. Note that normally we use the verb 'miss' in this way to speak of people or situations or animals -- things we have an emotional connection to. It is possible to have this feeling about a book, but more unusual.

So if 'missing' refers to an emotional state in which we find our life incomplete because the book is gone (as if the book were a person you are close to), then 'to be missing' could indeed be a continuous infinitive. That is not how I understood the sentence, but it is a possible meaning.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team