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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

Language level

Intermediate: B1

Comments

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

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

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

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

Hello, I would like to know if this PV example is correct: "the kids were taught by my favorite teacher."

Hello Jamil Harumi,

Yes, that is grammatically correct.

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

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

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