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

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Average: 3.4 (11 votes)

Submitted by Via on Fri, 16/10/2020 - 23:56

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Hello, e.g, The work will be finished next week. Could I rewrite the sentence as: e.g, The work will have finished next week. My appreciations.
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 14:16

In reply to by Via

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Hello Via,

Yes, that is grammatically correct and the two sentences effectively mean the same thing. The first one is much more commonly used.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by emmanuelniyomugabo12 on Fri, 25/09/2020 - 20:59

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This is the course that I try to capture very well and I enjoy learning passive voice.

Submitted by abo omar on Sun, 06/09/2020 - 20:54

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Hello, I have a very simple question Can I say Nobody saw the cup And how to change into passive. Can I say " The cup wasn't seen by anybody. " or " The cup was seen by nobody "
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Mon, 07/09/2020 - 04:33

In reply to by abo omar

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Hi abo omar,

Yes! Nobody saw the cup is fine, and both of your passive sentences are fine too.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kee_Fos on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 19:34

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Hello! Could you add lesson about impersonal passive too?

Submitted by Shreya on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 14:28

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Hello! I am not able to get this two sentences: 1) Flights to Sanya, the holiday hotspot in the South China Sea, has seen strong recovery helped by a new duty-free policy. This sentence should be in passive, they haven't mentioned who has seen it. Again it can't be "has been seen" as per passive rules. 2) All the children, gathered in that group, were ready to perform a traditional dance.(non-finite clause) Over here it should be readied.But again it sounds wrong. Kindly help.
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Sat, 29/08/2020 - 03:53

In reply to by Shreya

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Hi Shreya,

These are interesting examples. Let me try to help.

 

1) The sentence is correct in the active voice. In this sentence, see doesn't mean 'see with your eyes'. It's a different meaning. Here, it means 'to be the time or place when something happens', and the subject is Flights to Sanya (i.e. it means something like 'Flights to Sanya have experienced or witnessed ...'). This is the third meaning of see listed on this page in the Cambridge Dictionary. Have a look there for more examples.

But one correction is needed: Flights to Sanya have seen ...

 

2) There's no need to use a passive in this sentence. It's fine to use the adjective ready.

As you point out, ready is also a verb so the passive form would be: All the children were readied to perform ... . But, using the passive means specifically that the children were readied by someone (e.g. by a teacher, or a group leader). That is, the children didn't get themselves ready. But there's no other information about that in this sentence, so there's no reason to prefer the passive.

 

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Shreya on Sat, 29/08/2020 - 10:47

In reply to by Jonathan R

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Thank you so much Jonathan for your help.