Active and passive voice

Learn how to form the passive voice and do the exercises to practise using it.

Level: beginner

Transitive verbs have both active and passive forms:

active   passive
The hunter killed the lion. > The lion was killed by the hunter.
Someone has cleaned the windows. > The windows have been cleaned.

Passive forms are made up of the verb be with a past participle:

  be past participle  
English is spoken all over the world.
The windows have been cleaned.  
Lunch was being served.  
The work will be finished soon.
They might have been invited to the party.

If we want to show the person or thing doing the action, we use by:

She was attacked by a dangerous dog.
The money was stolen by her husband.

Active and passive voice 1

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Active and passive voice 2

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Active and passive voice 3

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Level: intermediate

The passive infinitive is made up of to be with a past participle:

The doors are going to be locked at ten o'clock.
You shouldn't have done that. You ought to be punished.

We sometimes use the verb get with a past participle to form the passive:

Be careful with that glass. It might get broken.
Peter got hurt in a crash.

We can use the indirect object as the subject of a passive verb:

active   passive
I gave him a book for his birthday. > He was given a book for his birthday.
Someone sent her a cheque for a thousand euros. >

She was sent a cheque for a thousand euros.

We can use phrasal verbs in the passive: 

active   passive
They called off the meeting. > The meeting was called off.
His grandmother looked after him. > He was looked after by his grandmother.
They will send him away to school. > He will be sent away to school.
Active and passive voice 4

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Active and passive voice 5

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Level: advanced

Some verbs which are very frequently used in the passive are followed by the to-infinitive:

be supposed to be expected to be asked to be told to
be scheduled to be allowed to be invited to be ordered to

John has been asked to make a speech at the meeting.
You are supposed to wear a uniform.
The meeting is scheduled to start at seven.

Active and passive voice 6

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Active and passive voice 7

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Submitted by Butteryliscious on Thu, 26/01/2023 - 14:35

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How do I change the voice of sentence given below
Why do I refuse to be interviewed?

Hello Butteryliscious,

The sentence already has a passive form - the passive infinitive (to be interviewed). You could manipulate the sentence into 'Why is being interviewed refused by me?' but it seems a pointless thing to do as it is a clumsy construction that I can't imagine ever using.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by milisisak on Mon, 26/12/2022 - 13:46

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Hi there, I am struggling with a sentence I think you can help me with. is the sentence - With its glass mosaic edifice, it has been nicknamed” the diamond of the desert.” passive or active, and why so?

Thank you

Hi milisisak,

"It has been nicknamed" is a passive structure, in the present perfect. The structure is: subject + "has/have" + "been" + past participle. The sense is that the subject "it" (presumably a building?) is not doing the "nicknaming" action, but instead is receiving the action (i.e., other people nicknamed this building "the diamond of the desert"). 

I hope that helps to make sense of it.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Please let me know the passive form of:
Ask him to write a letter. (Let him be asked to write a letter./ Let he be asked to write a letter./ Let a letter be asked to write by him.)
Give him another chance. (Let another chance be given to him./ Let him be given another chance.)
Call him. (Let him be called./ Let he be called.)

Hello jakirislam,

I'm afraid we don't provide answers to questions from elsewhere like this. If we did then we'd end up just doing people's homework or tests for them, which is not our job!

We're happy to explain rules and provide examples, of course, but not just to provide answers.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by RajdeepSangui on Thu, 24/11/2022 - 02:30

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Voice Change: It has been had by me.

Submitted by andresiniestaoficial on Fri, 11/11/2022 - 08:12

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hello. i understand that the passive form of "has the doctor given you your letter of discharge ?" become "have your letter of discharge been given to you ? but i have red these following sentence in a book and i'm lost now: "Have you been given your letter of discharge ?" is it possible to use passive voice like that ? thx

Hello Andres,

Yes, using the passive voice with double object verbs (like 'give') can be a little tricky.

The first thing I'd suggest is clearly distinguishing the direct object and the indirect object. In 'Has the doctor given you your letter of discharge?':

  • the subject is 'the doctor'
  • the indirect object is 'you'
  • the direct object is 'your letter of discharge'.

When a verb has only a direct object, the direct object becomes the subject of the passive verb. For example, 'The doctor treated the patient' becomes 'The patient was treated [by the doctor]'. (The brackets around 'by the doctor' show that this part of the sentence is optional; it can be omitted.)

You can do the same thing when the verb has a direct and indirect object: 'Has your letter of discharge been given to you [by the doctor]?' (Notice it's 'has' and not 'have' because 'your letter of discharge' is singular.)

What you saw in the book, however, is also correct when the indirect object is a person; the indirect object can become the subject of the passive verb: 'Have you been given your letter of discharge [by the doctor]?'

It can seem a bit strange, but it's perfectly natural in English. In fact, I'd say it's more common than the previous passive (where the direct object becomes the subject of the passive verb) with double object verbs.

Does that help make sense of this? Please let us know if you have other questions.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MirelaVasileva on Mon, 07/11/2022 - 17:16

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Hello,
I am having trouble understanding how to rewrite active questions into passive.
Can you please rewrite this questions and explain me how to do it?
1.Did your teacher make you do your science homework again?
2.Who built the rocket?
3.Have you repaired your telescope?
4.Who showed you round the space exhibition?
5.When are they testing the new space shuttle?
6.Who will give the talk at the Astronomy club?
Thank you in advance!

Hi MirelaVasileva,

To rephrase these questions in the passive, we need to choose a new grammatical subject - the original object of the verb (in bold below).

  1. Were you made (by your teacher) to do your science homework again?
  2. Who was the rocket built by?
  3. Has your telescope been repaired?

I hope that helps to understand it. I haven't answered the other questions in case you would like to have a try yourself.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

4. By whom were you showed around the space exhibition?
5. When will the new space shuttle by tested?
By whom will the talk at Astronomy Club be given?

Hello Miash.10,

These are correct except for the past participle of the verb 'show', which is irregular: 'shown'. Otherwise, well done!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Viviana Lamare on Mon, 17/10/2022 - 23:35

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Hi! can you help me with this?
Are these sentences in passive voice? Do we always need the verb to be in passive?
" The languages used to develop websites..."
" ...quickly became known as..."
" A programmer named X..."
Thank you in advance.

Hi Viviana Lamare,

Examples 1 and 3 are called "reduced passives". They are like shortened versions of the full passive in a relative clause ("The languages that are used" and "A programmer who is named X"). The noun is followed by the past participle, without "that" or the auxiliary verb.

Example 2 is also a passive, with the verb "become".

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bo Bo Kyaw on Thu, 29/09/2022 - 15:36

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Hello team,
Could you help me change this sentence "U Mya goes hiking every year." to passive voice? sir

Hello Bo Bo Kyaw,

I'm afraid it's not possible. Only transitive verbs can have a passive form (look under Verb patterns).

'go' is an intransitive verb and so it doesn't have a passive form. You could perhaps slightly change it and say something like 'Hikes are done by U Mya every year', but here the verb has been changed and this is so convoluted I don't think anyone would ever say it. I certainly wouldn't recommend it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sikandar on Thu, 08/09/2022 - 15:31

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Hi,
Can you please help me change the following sentence into passive voice
We had accepted the proposal and granted the money.
Thanking you already

Hi Sikandar,

It would be --> The proposal had been accepted (by us), and the money had been granted.

I hope it helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Bo Bo Kyaw,

Yes, that is correct, though it's important to understand that 'the money granted' is an abbreviated form of 'the money had been granted'. We sometimes leave out auxiliary verbs -- this is called ellipsis -- when we think the situation is clear.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by amrita_enakshi on Tue, 30/08/2022 - 03:42

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Hello Sir
It's my earnest request not to log me out due to inactivity. Learning and developing English have always been my prerogative.
Looking for help in the following sentence. 'The patient entered the clinic. ' Here the verb entered is intransitive so there cannot be a passive form. But, can we say that the above sentence is in active voice.
Kindly help.
Again I heartily appeal not to log me out and help me with this sentence.
Thank you.

Hello amrita_enakshi,

We've already answered this question for you elsewhere. The verb is not intransitive (the clinic is the object) and you can form a passive, but it is stylistically awkward in our view and unlikely to be the best choice.

 

Logging out due to inactivity is a new feature which I have asked the tech side to look at. I agree that it's a little too sensitive!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ketutputra on Sun, 13/03/2022 - 05:07

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Dear Mr. Jonathan and friends,

I have been wondering the term used in active and passive voice . Why the term 'voice' is used instead of sentence? What is actually behind it? I need to clarify it to my students, please help me. Thanks in advance.

Hello ketutputra,

That's a great question! To be honest, I'm not sure why the term 'voice' is used to refer to verbs, but I can point out that it refers to a verb and not a whole sentence. It's not completely wrong to refer to a passive sentence, but really what is passive is the verb.

You might find it useful to look through the Wikipedia article on Voice (grammar), though I'm not sure it will really answer your question.

I'm sorry we're not able to help you more with this, but as a linguistics question it's really outside the range of our expertise.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by emrenginben on Thu, 13/01/2022 - 17:58

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Hi all and thank you in advance for your time and help (really needed),
I've been teaching EFL since 2004 and today I encountered a form of passive voice like "was been spent" during an after-exam chat with a student. "was been spent" was his answer for one of the questions which should have been "was spent". Despite being sure that the form of his answer doesn't exist, I still googled it as usual because, you know you can actually never be sure when it comes to language studies. Anyways, I clicked on the search button and bingo! Hundreds of examples of "was been spent" especially in governmental documents (talking about the procurements done by the Government in the past), scientific research articles (representing research outcomes evidenced by quantitative data analysis, medical statements and in many other contexts. However, I couldn't find any grammatical explanations on it apart from some forum discussions full of people who are 100 % sure that kind of passive form doesn't exist, but it does and I really need to know its function and meaning (simply put "Why?" of it). I can only assume that this passive form is used to express high level of formality, certainty, importance, seriousness or emphasis. However, these are just my personal assumptions that don't satisfy me. I'd be obliged if you could help and provide a more reliable explanation.
Looking forward to your reply.
Best,
Emre

Hi Emre,

I'll try to answer your question. First, I can assure you that "was been spent" is not grammatical and it should be "was spent" or "was being spent" or "has been spent".

When I searched for the phrase "was been spent", I also found government documents including them (probably the same procurement documents you mentioned). However, looking closely, "was been spent" appears not in the government's own text but in the questions from citizens that the government was asked and is responding to. They may have preserved the original question wording, errors included, to avoid any possible distortions from 'correcting' it. One of those questions included both "how much has been spent" and "how much was been spent" - I assume the first phrase is the meaning intended by the asker.

I found another government document from 1877 with "was been spent" in the search results. However, opening the document shows that it is formatted in two columns of text, with "been spent" in one column and "was" is in the other. The words are actually in different sentences. The search engine has parsed the whole document incorrectly in lines from left to right, across columns.

For the other search results, they must be errors, either grammatical or typing. Errors do appear in official documents and academic texts (though less commonly than elsewhere). You may find hundreds of examples online, but that is true even of ungrammatical phrases, given the huge amount of text available online. For comparison, correct forms have higher counts (e.g. "had been spent" has over 20 million results; "was being spent" 1.6 million) than "was been spent", which has about 50,000 results. The also incorrect "was be spent" has about 80,000 results, i.e. in a similar range.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sun, 09/01/2022 - 15:39

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Hello Team. Could you please help me?
- I have just read a text in which there is the following sentence: "I try hard to finish my homework on time, but I can never get it all done."

- I can't understand "get it all done". Is it causative? Is there anyone doing my homework for me? I'm confused.
Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

"Get something done" can be causative (e.g. I get my hair done at the hairdresser's), but in this sentence it isn't. It's a different meaning - to complete a task.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Although I couldn't find a dictionary entry for it to refer you to, I can assure you that 'get it done' is a very common phrase that means 'complete'. In this case, it's not a causative, because the subject completes the action, not another person. If I say 'I can never get all my homework done' it means 'I can never complete all my homework'.

When 'get' + object + infinitive is causative, it means that someone else (not the subject) performs the action. The sentence 'I got my car fixed' means that I arrange for someone else to fix my car.

Let us know if you have any other questions.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Tue, 04/01/2022 - 19:06

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Hello. Could you please help me? What is the difference in form and meaning of the following sentences?

1- Did you have anyone to help you?

2- Did you have anyone help you?

Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

In 1, the question asks if a person who could help you was present or available. Here the structure is 'have' + object + 'to' infinitive; you could change it in many different ways, e.g. 'have anything to do', 'have any meetings to attend'. There are many, many uses in which an infinitive can be added to an object in a similar way.

The second sentence shows a somewhat more specific use, that of 'have' (or 'get') in a causative structure. It asks if you arranged for another person to help you. Here the structure is the verb 'have' + object (a person as subject) + bare infinitive. This can be used when speaking about arrangements you made with people in which they do something.

Another common causative structure uses 'have' + object (person or thing) + past participle to express the idea that someone arranges for a task to be done. For example, if I hire some workers to paint my house, I can say 'I'm having my house painted'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Sat, 04/09/2021 - 05:04

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Respected team, In 1890, (faced) with the growing difficulty of accommodating immigrants at Castle Garden in Manhattan, the government decided to turn Ellis island into an immigration station. Is the verb (face) passive form? If so what has happened to (to be) verb? And if possible please direct me to some more examples on the net. Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour.

In this sentence 'faced' is a past participle which heads a participle clause. It is not a passive form but it has a passive meaning, so your question shows that you understand the meaning here.

 

We have a page on participle clauses which should be helpful. As you'll see, participle clauses with a past participle have a passive meaning and participle clauses with a present participle (verb-ing) have an active meaning. You can find the page here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-intermediate/participle-clauses

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Sun, 29/08/2021 - 07:37

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Hi there brilliant team I want to know something about following sentence "The desk was littered with papers." Here I think' papers' is the subject and the right sentence should be /The desk was littered by papers.\. Because who or what littered the desk? It's answer is 'papers'. I would be grateful if you could clear up my confusion.

Hi Nevi,

The correct form here is 'with'.

The papers are not performing the action here. They are the tool which is used, so to speak.

If you want to see the sentence as a passive then the subject in the sentence is 'the desk'. No agent is provided because it is unknown or irrelevant, but an agent could be added:

The table was covered with papers by the team.

However, I would not see this sentence as a passive at all. 'Covered' here describes a characteristic of the desk rather than an action performed on it. Many past participles can be used as adjectives and I would simply treat this as an adjective, just as we do with 'interested', 'bored', 'dressed' and so on.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Wed, 30/06/2021 - 06:02

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Sir, 'stopped and blocked' are an adjective also?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 30/06/2021 - 06:33

In reply to by Rsb

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Hello Rsb,

Yes, both of those words can function as adjectives:

A stopped car can cause big problems on the motorway.

We have several blocked streets after the earthquake.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Pete sir, If I want to use these adjectives with get For ex. My account got stopped or blocked automatically. Get' Is used as linking verb as change in state of subject 'my account'

Hello again Rsb,

That use is fine. It's a passive form using 'get' instead of 'be' as the auxiliary verb.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Pete sir, "My account is stopped or blocked" Can it have two meanings: 1. It is passive form using 'get' in place of be. It is present indefinite tense. 2. It is simple sentence stopped and blocked act as an adjective here. And get is main verb Am I correct?

Hello Rsb,

I think it is an adjective here describing the account. If you read it as a passive then it would be present simple, and you'd need a context to suit that such as 'my account is blocked every week' or similar.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Rsb and teacher, I also wanted to ask something about that grammar topic. For example There is a explanation in the dictionary about the adj. 'blocked' https://www.google.com/amp/s/dictionary.cambridge.org/amp/english/blocked However, there is no explanation in the dictionary about the adj 'stopped'. It directly says past simple and past participle of stop. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/stopped?q=Stopped I wonder why one participle adjective is shown in the dictionary and other is not. I would be grateful if you could clear up my confusion. Thank you in advance.

Hi Nevı,

Some dictionaries do list stopped as an adjective (e.g. the Collins Dictionary). 

Different dictionaries use different criteria for including or excluding words. One of these criteria is probably the frequency of usage - i.e., blocked as an adjective is probably more frequently used than stopped as an adjective.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Thu, 24/06/2021 - 13:59

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Sir, 'Aliyah gets hospitalized.' This sentence has two meaning: 1. It can be in passive form. Like Aliyah is/gets hospitalized by someone. 2. It can be simple present sentence where 'hospitalized' work as an adjective and 'gets' is a main verb/linking verb. Right sir? As per English grammar, we use 'get' in place of 'be' in passive construction. That rule only apply for simple present, past and future tense only. Ex. I break the window.( Active) The window is/gets broken by me .(passive) If I say, The window is being broken by me. Here, can't we use 'get' in place of 'be' This rule is not apply for continuous, perfect , perfect continuous tense ?
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 24/06/2021 - 15:18

In reply to by Rsb

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Hello Rsb,

The two uses of 'got' that you mention here are just two of quite a few. The sentence you use as an example is grammatically correct, but sounds a little unnatural to me because  there is dissonance between the use of 'get' as an informal passive auxiliary and the word 'hospitalized', which is not informal. Your example is grammatically correct, however -- I just wanted to point this out.

I'm not familiar with the rule you mention about 'get' not being used in passives in continuous or perfect forms, but it does sound like a good guideline in general. It does indeed sound odd to me to say 'The window is getting broken', but I don't think I'd go so far as to say it's incorrect.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team