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: 3.4 (11 votes)

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