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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Language level

B1 English level (intermediate)

Submitted by Kunthea on Thu, 11/08/2022 - 03:46

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Hello teachers,
Could you please tell me about the exercise number 7 in Grammar test 1?
The fire service still________ the fire.
The answer is haven't put out
The third answer makes more sense; I also think that. However, why not use hasn't instead; I think the subject of the sentence is singular or the subject itself means Plural? Why?

Hello Kunthea,

Words which describe organisations and institutions can often be both singular and plural. Thus we can say The police is... or The police are....

Other examples are the fire service, the army, the United Nations, Manchester United, the European Union, my class, the government, Microsoft etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Eureka on Wed, 10/08/2022 - 07:07

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Hi,
Is it alright to begin a sentence with a PASSIVE VERB (in caps)?
For example, CONSTRUCTED on this land is a premium condominium.
If not why?
Is the following better?
A premium condominium has been CONSTRUCTED on this land.
A more complex one is as follows:
Social elites promoted the "great tradition", which pushes forward "practice" through "discourse, "entirely breaking down idols".
Does it make sense to rewrite it as follows?
PROMOTED by social elites, the “great tradition” pushes forward “practice” through “discourse”, “entirely breaking down idols”.

Thank you for your advice as I was unable to find any help even on the Internet.

Hello Eureka,

Regarding your first question, the second version is definitely the better one in the vast majority of situations. As far as I can tell, the first version would only work in poetry or some very unusual and specific situation.

As for the second sentence, both versions are correct and mean the same thing.

Please note that a passive verb is not composed just of the past participle, but also of the auxiliary verb. So in your first sentence, for example, the full passive verb is 'has been constructed'.

The sentences beginning with the past participles actually use a participle clause (not a passive verb). As you'll see on the page I've linked to, we get a lot of questions about participle clauses. This is ironic, since they are relatively uncommon, but my point is that you might want to read through some of the comments and our answers to learn more.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Thank you for your explanation and the link. Having read them, I have a better understanding now.

I have another question on the use of ... not only ... but (also) ..., and sincerely hope you can help me. Is there a writing convention stating that 'not only' has to be placed in front? Examples below.

1) The official codes were NOT ONLY observed in trials, BUT legal writings were ALSO used as references for adjudicating cases.
2) NOT ONLY the official codes were observed in trials, BUT legal writings were ALSO used as references for adjudicating cases.

For context, Sentence 1 was extracted from a longer sentence as follows:
He believes that in the Qing Dynasty, the official state codes, such as the Great Qing Legal Code, were not only strictly observed in court trials, but established cases, customary laws, reasoning, and legal writings were also used as important references for judicial officials to judge cases. However, an editor suggested bringing NOT ONLY before 'the official state codes'.

Thank you for your time.

Hello Eureka,

Yes, it's possible to use 'not only' at the beginning, though this requires inverting the subject and auxiliary verb. You did a good job with sentence 2 but the auxiliary verb in the 'not only' clause ('were') needs to be put before the subject ('the official codes'): 'Not only were the official codes observed in trials, but legal writings ...'

This is a topic we are developing a page about (I'm afraid it will be some time before it's ready for publication), but in the meantime you can read a little more about this on the Cambridge Dictionary page on inversion (see especially the 'Expressions beginning with not' section).

What your editor suggested sounds like a good idea to me, though of course you would need to move 'were' as well: 'He believes that in the Qing Dynasty, not only were official state codes, such as the GQLC, strictly observed ...'

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Thank you. Sentence 1 was the original one before it was edited. Would the unedited Sentence 1 be correct in and of itself?

Sentence 2 was edited from Sentence 1 but the edited version is somehow incorrect as the auxiliary verb should have been placed before the subject.

Really appreciate your time

Hello Eureka,

Yes, sentence 1 is grammatically correct. Re: sentence 2, I expect it was just an oversight on the editor's part.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Skyville on Tue, 26/07/2022 - 16:22

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Hello,

I was trying to come up with the passive form of "Someone has proposed improvements to the developers" and apparently "Improvements have been proposed to the teachers." is correct but "The developers have been proposed improvements." isn't. Why is it incorrect?

Thank you very much for your attention.

Hello Skyville,

It's because the verb 'propose' isn't used this way -- it's not a double object verb. Instead of having a 'straight' indirect object, that is, an indirect object that is not a prepositional phrase, a prepositional phrase is required. As you can see in the original sentence, the indirect object takes the form of a prepositional phrase with the preposition 'to'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by hesham ali on Fri, 24/06/2022 - 15:45

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Hello teacher
this sentence (I am focused)
could be adjective or passive voice for simple present
my question about passive voice
I am focused by myself
object: me
subject: myself

Hello hesham ali,

The phrase 'by myself' here does not describe an agent (the doer of the action) but rather has the meaning 'alone'. I would read the sentence as 'I am focused (when I am) by myself'.

'Focused' is an adjective. You could replace it with other adjectives such as 'happy', 'bored', 'productive' etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Leilaa on Wed, 08/06/2022 - 07:23

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Hello, I appreciate for all, it's a really useful website. I have a problem with a passive statement : "In order to be accepted, all applicants must make a pledge to not let the information (to be taken/being taken/is taken/be taken) out of the company " which one is correct?

Hello Leilaa,

All of the options are passive forms here, so what you need to consider to choose the right answer is what comes before the option. In the phrase 'a pledge to not let the information ...', the word that determines the form of 'be take' is the verb 'let'.

'let' is followed by a bare infinitive form, that is, an infinitive form without 'to'. You can read more about this on our Verbs followed by the infinitive page (see the section on make and do).

In this case, that is 'be taken'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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."