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

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Average: 2.3 (3 votes)

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