The Active And Passive Voice English Language Essay

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The question we must ask is what is the sentence about In the two sentences above, the first is about a dog that is why it is mentioned first and the second sentence is about Peter. The structure- active or passive - depends on how the sentence starts.

Sometimes the passive is the more natural choice. Think of the situations where you would read the following and you will see why the passive is the obvious choice:

1. Children must be carried.

2. Outdoor shoes must not be worn in the gym.

3. These gates will be locked at 8pm daily.

4. Hard hats must be worn at all times.

No. 1 is a sign in the London Underground at the top and bottom of escalators. It has more impact than if you have a child with you, please carry him or her.

No. 2 is a sign in a school outside the gymnasium. It is more direct than you mustn't wear your outdoor shoes in the gym.

No. 3 is a sign on the gates of a park warning people to be out of the park before the gates are locked. Warning signs are always as short as possible.

No. 4 is a common sign on building sites. Again, it is an important safety sign and needs to be as short as possible. You must wear a hard hat at all times does not have the impact or authority of the passive.

Active vs. passive

A simple sentences

For our research studies we normally produce a preliminary analysis. We then publish the findings and circulate them to various experts. This is exactly what we did when we applied for the current patent. We are therefore very surprised that you have contacted us in this matter. We can assure you that we completed all the relevant documentation. In the meantime we will investigate your claims further.

For our research studies a preliminary analysis is normally produced. The findings are then published and circulated to various experts. This is exactly what was done when the current patent was applied for. We are therefore very surprised that we have been contacted in this matter. We can assure you that all the relevant documentation was completed. In the meantime your claims will be investigated further.


Every active sentence has at least two parts:

a subject [1] + an active verb form [2]

We normally produce a preliminary analysis.

[1] [ 2 ]

Every passive sentence has at least two parts:

a subject [1] + a passive verb form [2]

A preliminary analysis is normally produced.

[ 1 ] [ 2 ]


We use the active verb form in speech and writing to describe actions and events. For example:

Paper still plays a vital role in our lives - newspapers tell us the events of the day. And books entertain and educate us. Paper has been with us since 105 A.D. The Chinese first used it to make records; later it spread to all parts of the world.

We can use the passive in the following situations:

1. We are not interested in the doer.

Ancient paper was made entirely of rags; modern paper is made from wood pulp -a faster and cheaper alternative.

2. in process descriptions.

First the logs are stripped of bark, cut into smaller sections, and made into chips. The chips are put into a large tank called a digester and allowed to stew in a chemical mix under pressure. The wood pulp that is created by this process is then washed to remove any chemicals and pressed through screens to remove chunks and foreign objects. The pulp is then drained of water to form a mass that is then bleached and washed again.

The first two corresponding active sentences would be:

First we strip the logs of bark, and then we cut them in to smaller sections, and make them into chips. We then put the chips into a large tank called a digester and allow them to stew in a chemical mix under pressure.

3. in impersonal language.

The chemical since this process are toxic: safety clothing must be worn.

This is the typical style of a written order or instruction. The corresponding active sentence would be: The chemicals are toxic: wear safety clothing.


Notice that the tense of the verb to be in the passive voice is the same as the tense of the main verb in the active voice.

Example: to keep


Simple present keeps is kept

Present continuous is keeping is being kept

Simple past kept was kept

Past continuous was keeping was being kept

Present perfect have kept have been kept

Past perfect had kept had been kept

Future will keep will be kept

Conditional present would keep would be kept

Conditional past would have kept would have been kept

Present infinitive to keep to be kept

Perfect infinitive to have kept to have been kept

Present participle/gerund keeping being kept

Perfect participle having kept having been kept

The passive voice


A. The passive of an active tense is formed by putting the verb to be into the same tense as the active verb and adding the past participle of the active verb. The subject of the active verb becomes the 'agent' of the passive verb. The agent is very often not mentioned. When it is mentioned it is preceded by and placed at the end of the clause:

This free was planted by my grandfather.

B. Examples of present, past and perfect passive tenses:

Active: We keep the butter here.

Passive: The butter is kept here.

Active : They broke the window.

Passive : The window was broken.

Active People have seen wolves in She streets.

Passive Wolves have been seen in the streets.

C The passive of continuous tenses requires the present continuous forms of to be, which are not otherwise much used:

Active :They are repairing the bridge.

Passive :The bridge is being repaired.

Active :They were carrying the injured player off the field.

Passive :The injured player was being carried off the field.

Other continuous tenses are exceedingly rarely used in the passive, so that sentences such as:

They have/had been repairing the road and

They will/would be repairing the roads are not normally put into the passive,

D Auxiliary + infinitive combinations are made passive by using a passive infinitive:

Active You must/should shut these doors.

Passive These doors must/should be shut.

Active They should/ought for have told him. (perfect infinitive active)

Passive He should/ought to have been told. (perfect infinitive passive)

E Other infinitive combinations

Verbs of liking/loving/wanting/wishing etc. + object + infinitive form their passive with the passive infinitive:

Active He wants someone to take photographs.

Passive He wants photographs to be taken.

With verbs of command/request/advice/invitation + indirect object + infinitive we form the passive by using the passive form of the main verb:

Active He invited me to go.

Passive I was invited to go.

But with advise/beg/order/recommend/urge + indirect object + infinitive + object we can form the passive in two ways: by making the main verb passive, as above, or by advise etc. + that, should + passive infinitive:

Active He urged the Council to reduce the rates.

Passive The Council was/were urged to reduce the rates or, he urged that the rates should be reduced. Agree/be anxious/arrange/be determined/determine/decide/demand + infinitive + object are usually expressed in the passive by that. . . should, as above:

Active He decided to sell the house.

Passive He decided that the house should lie sold.

F Gerund combinations

Advise/insist/propose/recommend/suggest + gerund + object are usually expressed in the passive by that. . . should, as above:

Active He recommended using bullet-proof glass.

Passive He recommended that bullet-proof glass should be used.

Practical English Grammar

It/they + need + gerund can also be expressed by it/they + need + passive infinitive. Both forms are passive in meaning.

Other gerund combinations are expressed in the passive by the passive gerund:

Active I remember them taking me to the Zoo.

Passive / remember being taken to the Zoo.

B. In colloquial speech get is sometimes used instead of be:

The eggs got (= were) broken. You 'II get (= be) sacked if you take any more time off.

C. Note that in theory a sentence containing a direct and an indirect object, such as Someone gave her a bulldog, could have two passive forms:

She was given a bulldog. A bulldog was given to her.

The first of these is much the more usual, i.e. the indirect object usually becomes the subject of the passive verb.

D. Questions about the identity of the subject of an active verb are usually expressed by an affirmative.

What delayed you? Which leant won?

Questions about the subject of a passive verb are also expressed by an affirmative:

Something was done. ~ What was dime?

One of them was sold. ~ Which of them was sold?

Interrogative verbs in active questions may become affirmative verbs in passive questions:

What did they steal? (interrogative)

What was stolen? (affirmative)

Note, however that, when the question refers to the agent, an interrogative verb is necessary:

Who painted it? (affirmative)

Who was it painted by? (interrogative)

Prepositions with passive verbs

As already noted, the agent, when mentioned, is preceded by by;

Active Dufy painted this picture. Passive this picture was painted by Dufy. Active What makes these holes? Passive what are these holes made by?

Note, however, that the passive form of such sentences as:

Smoke filled the room. Paint covered the lock will be:

The room was filled with smoke. The lock was covered with paint. We are dealing here with materials used, not with the agents.

, When a verb + preposition 4- object combination is put into the passive, the preposition will remain immediately after the verb;

Active We must write to him.

Passive He must be written to.

Active You can play with these cubs quite safely.

Passive These cubs can be played with quite safely.

Similarly with verb + preposition/adverb combinations:

Active They threw away the old newspapers.

Passive The old newspapers were thrown away.

Active He looked after the children well.

Passive The children were well looked after.

Infinitive constructions after passive verbs

After acknowledge, assume, believe, claim, consider, estimate, feel, find, know, presume, report, say, think, understand etc.

Sentences of the type People consider/know/think etc. that he is . . . have two possible passive forms:

It is considered/known/thought etc. that he is . . .

He is considered/known/thought etc. to be . . . Similarly:

B After suppose

1 suppose in the passive can be followed by the present infinitive of any verb but this construction usually conveys an idea of duty and is not therefore the normal equivalent of suppose in the active:

You are supposed to know how to drive = It is your duty to know/Vim should know how to drive though He is supposed to be in Paris could mean either 'He ought to be there' or 'People suppose he is there'-

2 suppose in the passive can similarly be followed by the perfect infinitive of any verb. This construction may convey an idea of duty but very often does not:

You are supposed to have finished = You should have finished but He is supposed to have escaped disguised as a woman = People suppose that he escaped etc.

C Infinitives placed after passive verbs are normally full infinitives:

Active We saw them go out. He made us work. Passive They were seen to go out. We were made to work. leLt, however, is used without to:

Active They let us go. Passive We were let go.

D The continuous infinitive can be used after the passive of believe, know, report, say, suppose, think, understand:

He is believed/known/said/supposed/thought to be living abroad = People believe/know/say/suppose/think that he is living abroad. You are supposed to he working = You should be working. The perfect form of the continuous infinitive is also possible:

He is believed to have been waiting for a message = People believed that he was waiting for a message. You are supposed to have been working = You should have been working.

Basic Methodology: Passive vs. Active Voice

Active and passive-like major (duuri) and minor (molli) keys in music-are the two types of voice. Tenses are unrelated to voice; tense indicates time.

Note the difference between tenses-present, past, and perfect-and voice. The English passive always includes two to four verbs and allows the addition of "by" someone / something.

And even a future passive is possible-though horrible: "The test will have been given"!

As recently as 1997, Paul Leedy insisted, in his book Practical Research, Planning and Design, that "the researcher … should be anonymous. The use of the first-person pronoun or reference to the researcher in any other way is particularly taboo. … All of the action within the drama of research revolves around the data; they, and they only, speak." (Emphasis mine)

My response: Then why not let the data speak? Here, Leedy himself elegantly states that the action . . . revolves-in active voice. He has "data" speaking in the active voice, as well. These are fine inanimate agents-non-living causes of actions. If such agents serve as subjects, we avoid any need for personal pronouns to call the researcher(s) "I" or "We."

Leedy continues, "The passive voice … is used to indicate [Why not "the passive voice indicates"?] that no identifiable subject is performing the act. It is a kind of ghostly form of the verb that causes events to happen without any visible cause being present." Then, "Note the passive voice construction in this sentence: 'A survey was made of the owners of the Rollaway automobiles' or 'The researcher made a survey of the owners of Rollaway automobiles.' …

Here we have [an] . . . intrusion of the researcher. … The best research reporting does not use it."

Instead of the passive verb or "the researcher made," why not "A survey of the owners . . . showed that …"? All surveys producing results have already been "made."

In the active, this is both shorter and stronger.

He adds that passive voice verbs can even "suggest events … in the future without any indication of who will do them by using the future passive form of the verb … 'The test will have been given before the students are permitted to read the novel.'" These two passives consume eight words.

Because all tests, once finished, "have been given," why not: "After the test / after taking the test, the students will / can then read / will be able to read the novel"? Active voice and short.

􀁸 Present tense, active voice: "he finds." Passive: "it is found"

􀁸 Past tense, active: "he found." Passive: "it was found"

􀁸 Present perfect active: "she has found." Passive: "it has been found"

􀁸 Past perfect active: "she had found." Passive: "it had been found"

Do you worry about journals' accepting papers written entirely in the active voice?

Although active voice is rarely possible to maintain throughout Methods, in Nature Medicine, authors freely use "We, we, we"! That means lines like

"We processed the samples. Then we rinsed the residue in a solution of . . . ."

Here are more empirical data (Note: The word "data" is plural.)

Back in 2001, biologist Rupert Sheldrake queried 55 journals in the biological and physical sciences. Only two still required use of the passive voice. "Most scientific journals accept papers in the active voice," he said, "and some . . . positively encourage it." (New Scientist, 21 July 2001)

The British Medical Journal's "House Style" on the internet has for many years made the following demand:

"Write in the active and use the first person where necessary."

Even in active voice, however, "I/We" first-person pronouns are usually unnecessary.

(Interestingly, "our" seems popular, even when the writer avoids "we.")

The valuable inanimate agent allows you to avoid these pronouns and use active voice.

Save passive verbs for when they do, however, prove useful:

"Some of us will greatly Miss Professor Aho" implies that some will be quite happy he is gone.

Avoid sending this sentence to his or her widow or widower!

Instead, "(The late) Professor Aho will be missed." ("Late" is a polite adjective for deceased.)

To be gentle: "You're fired / sacked" is "Your candidacy / position is revoked /eliminated."

Similarly gentle, "Your breast must be removed." "Your results will arrive after tests are run."

To maintain anonymity: "The suggestion was made today that nurses should go on strike."

To be cute: "When my great-grandmother status is achieved, greater respect will be required."

The other usages of the active and passive

Passive (1) (is done/was done)

A. Study this example:

This house was built in 1930.

'Was built' is passive. Compare active and passive:

Somebody built this house (object) in 1930. (active)

This house (subject) was built in 1930. (passive)

We use an active verb to say what the subject does:

* My grandfather was a builder. He built this house in 1930.

* It's a big company. It employs two hundred people.

We use a passive verb to say what happens to the subject:

* This house is quite old. It was built in 1930.

* Two hundred people are employed by the company.

B. When we use the passive, who or what causes the action is often unknown or unimportant:

* A lot of money was stolen in the robbery. (somebody stole it but we don't know who)

* Is this room cleaned every day? (does somebody clean it?--it's not important who)

If we want to say who does or what causes the action, we use by...

* This house was built by my grandfather.

* Two hundred people are employed by the company.

C. The passive is be (is/was/have been etc.) + the past participle (done/cleaned/seen etc.):

(be) done (be) cleaned (be) seen (be) damaged (be) built etc.

For irregular past participles (done/known/seen etc.), see Appendix 1.

Study the active and passive forms of the present simple and past simple:

Present simple

active: clean(s)/see(s) etc.

Somebody cleans this every day.

passive: am/is/are cleaned/seen etc.

This room is cleaned every day.

* Many accidents are caused by careless driving.

* I'm not often invited to parties.

* How is this word pronounced?

Present simple

active: cleaned/saw etc.

Somebody cleaned this room yesterday.

passive: was/were cleaned/seen etc.

This room was cleaned yesterday.

* We were woken up by a loud noise during the night.

* 'Did you go to the party?' 'No, I wasn't invited.'

* How much money was stolen?

Passive (2) (be/been/being done) Study the following active and passive forms:

A. Infinitive

active: (to) do/clean/see etc. Somebody will clean the room later.

passive: (to) be done/cleaned/seen etc. The room will be clean later.

* The situation is serious. Something must be done before it's too late.

* A mystery is something that can't be explained.

* The music was very loud and could be heard from a long way away.

* A new supermarket is going to be built next year.

* Please go away. I want to be left alone.

B. Perfect infinitive

active: have done/cleaned/seen etc. Somebody should have cleaned the room.

passive: have been done/cleaned/seen etc. The room should have been cleaned.

* I haven't received the letter yet. It might have been sent to the wrong address.

* If you hadn't left the car unlocked, it wouldn't have been stolen.

* There were some problems at first but they seem to have been solved.

C. Present perfect

active: have/has (done) The room looks nice. Somebody has cleaned it.

passive: have/has been (done) The room looks nice. It has been clean.

* Have you heard the news? The President has been shot!

* Have you ever been bitten by a dog?

* 'Are you going to the party?' 'No, I haven't been invited.'

Past perfect

active: had(done) The room looked nice. Somebody had cleaned it.

passive: had been (done) The room looked nice. It had been clean.

* The vegetables didn't taste very good. They had been cooked for too long.

* The car was three years old but hadn't been used very much.

D. Present continuous

active: am/is/are (do)ing Somebody is cleaning the room at the moment.

passive: am/is/are being (done) The room is being cleaned at the moment.

* There's somebody walking behind us. I think we are being followed.

* (in a shop) 'Can I help you, madam?' 'No, thank you. I'm being served.'

Past continuous

active: was/were (do)ing Somebody was cleaning the room when I arrived.

passive: was/were being (done) The room was being cleaned when I arrived.

* There was somebody walking behind us. We were being followed.

Passive (3)

A. I was born ...

We say: I was born ... (not 'I am born'):

past simple

* I was born in Chicago.

* Where were you born? (not 'where are you born') but present simple

* How many babies are born every day?

B. Some verbs can have two objects. For example, give:

* We gave _the police_(object 1) _the information._(object 2) (= We gave the information to the police.)

So it is possible to make two passive sentences:

* The police were given the information. or The information was given to the police.

Other verbs which can have two objects are: ask offer pay show teach tell

When we use these verbs in the passive, most often we begin with the person:

* I was offered the job but I refused it. (= they offered me the job)

* You will be given plenty of time to decide. (= we will give you plenty of time)

* Have you been shown the new machine? (= has anybody shown you ...?)

* The men were paid L200 to do the work. (= somebody paid the men L200)

C. I don't like being...

The passive of doing/seeing etc. is being done/being seen etc. Compare:

Active: I don't like people telling me what to do.

Passive: I don5t like being told what to do.

* I remember being given a toy drum on my fifth birthday. (= I remember somebody giving me a toy drum...)

* Mr. Miller hates being kept waiting. (= he hates people keeping him waiting)

* We managed to climb over the wall without being seen. (= ... without anybody seeing us)

D. Get

Sometimes you can use get instead of be in the passive:

* There was a fight at the party but nobody got hurt. (= nobody was hurt)

* I don't often get invited to parties. (= I'm not often invited)

* I'm surprised Ann didn't get offered the lob. (... Ann wasn't offered the job)

You can use get to say that something happens to somebody or something, especially if this is unplanned or unexpected:

* Our dog got run over by a car.

You can use get only when things happen or change. For example, you cannot use get in these sentences:

* Jill is liked by everybody. (not 'gets liked' - this is not a 'happening')

* He was a mystery man. Nothing was known about him. (not 'got known')

We use get mainly in informal spoken English. You can use be in all situations.

We also use get in the following expressions (which are not passive in meaning): get married get divorced get dressed (= put on your clothes) get changed (= change your clothes)

It is said that... He is said to... (be) supposed to...

A. Study this example situation:

Henry is very old. Nobody knows exactly how old he is, but:

It is said that he is 108 years old. or He is said to be 108 years old.

Both these sentences mean: 'People say that he is 108 years old.'

You can use these structures with a number of other verbs, especially: thought believed considered reported known expected alleged understood

Compare the two structures:

* Cathy works very hard.

It is said that she works 16 hours a day. or She is said to work 16 hours a day.

* The police are looking for a missing boy.

It is believed that the boy is wearing a or white pullover and blue jeans. The boy is believed to be wearing a white pullover and blue jeans.

* The strike started three weeks ago.

It is expected that it will end soon. or The strike is expected to end soon

* A friend of mine has been arrested.

It is alleged that he kicked a policeman. or He is alleged to have kicked a policeman.

* Those two houses belong to the same family.

It is said that there is a secret tunnel between them. There is said to be a secret tunnel between them.

These structures are often used in news reports. For example, in a report about an accident:

* It is reported that two people were injured in the explosion. or Two people are reported to have been injured in the explosion.

B. (Be) supposed to

Sometimes it is supposed to ... = it is said to...

* Let's go and see that film. It's supposed to be very good. (= it is said to be very good)

* 'Why was he arrested?' 'He's supposed to have kicked a policeman.' (= he is said to have kicked a policeman)

But sometimes supposed to has a different meaning. 'Something is supposed to happen' = it is planned, arranged or expected. Often this is different from what really happens:

* I'd better hurry. It's nearly 8 o'clock and I'm supposed to be meeting Ann at 8.15. (= I have arranged to meet Ann, I said I would meet her)

* The train was supposed to arrive at 11.30 but it was an hour late. (= the train was expected to arrive at 11.30 according to the timetable)

* You were supposed to clean the windows. Why didn't you do it?

'You're not supposed to do something' = it is not allowed or advisable for you to do it:

* You're not supposed to park your car here. It's private parking only.

* Mr. Bond is much better after his illness but he's still not supposed to do any heavy work. (= his doctors have advised him not to ...)

Have something done

A. Study this example situation:

The roof of Jill's house was damaged in a storm, so she arranged for somebody to repair it. Yesterday a workman came and did the job.

Jill had the roof repaired yesterday.

This means: Jill arranged for somebody else to repair the roof. She didn't repair it herself.

We use have something done to say that we arrange for somebody else to do something for us.


* Jill repaired the roof. (= she repaired it herself)

* Jill had the roof repaired. (= she arranged for somebody else to repair it)

Study these sentences:

* Did Ann make the dress herself or did she have it made?

* 'Are you going to repair the car yourself?' 'No, I'm going to have it repaired.'

Be careful with word order. The past participle (repaired/cut etc.) is after the object (the roof your hair etc.):

Have + object + past participle

Jill had the roof repaired yesterday.

Where did you have your hair cut?

Your hair looks nice. Have you had it cut?

Julia has just had central heating installed in her house.

We are having the house painted at the moment.

How often do you have your car serviced?

I think you should have that coat cleaned soon.

I don't like having my photograph taken.

B. You can also say 'get something done' instead of 'have something done' (mainly in informal spoken English):

* When are you going to get the roof repaired? (= have the roof repaired)

* I think you should get your hair cut.

C. Sometimes have something done has a different meaning. For example:

* Jill and Eric had all their money stolen while they were on holiday.

Of course this does not mean that they arranged for somebody to steal their money. 'They had all their money stolen' means only: 'All their money was stolen from them.'

With this meaning, we use have something done to say that something happens to somebody or their belongings. Usually what happens is not nice:

* George had his nose broken in a fight.

* Have you ever had your passport stolen?


The use of the passive

Compare the active and passive sentences.

Active: The secretary typed the report.

Passive: The report was typed (by the secretary).

When the person doing the action (the secretary) is the subject, we use an active verb. When the subject is what the action is directed at (the report), then we use a passive verb. We can choose to talk about the secretary and what he/she did, or about the report and what happened to it. This choice depends on what is old or new information in the context. Old information usually comes at the beginning of the sentence, and new information at the end.

In a passive sentence the agent can be the new and important information ( the secretary.), or we can leave it out if it does not add any information. We say The report was typed because the fact that the typing is complete is more important than the identity of the typist.

The passive is often used in an official, impersonal style.


A passive verb has a form of be and a passive participle.

Tenses and aspects in the passive

The letter was posted yesterday.

Modal verbs in the passive

All tickets must be shown.

The passive with get •

Sometimes we use get instead of be.

The letter got lost in the post.

Special patterns

The passive with verbs of giving

The pupils were all given certificates.

104 The use of the passive

The passive with verbs of reporting

It is said that the company is bankrupt.

The company is said to be bankrupt.

Passive + to-infinitive or active participle

You were warned to take care.

A lot of time was spent arguing.

Patterns with have and get • 111

We use have/get something done for professional services.

I had/got the photos developed.

The passive to-infinitive and gerund

We don't want to be refused entry.

I hate being photographed.

Active forms with a passive meaning

The sheets need washing.

I've got some shopping to do.

The oven cleans easily.

OVERVIEW: active and passive verb forms

The other use of the passive

1 The topic

Here are two paragraphs. One is about the scientist J.J. Thomson, and the other is about the electron.


British physicist and mathematician, a subatomic particle and one of the head of a group of researchers at basic constituents of matter. The Cavendish Laboratory in electron was discovered by J.J. Cambridge. Thomson discovered the Thomson. It is found in all atoms electron. He is regarded as the contains the smallest known founder of modern physics. Negative electrical charge.

Compare these two sentences, one from each paragraph.

Thomson discovered the electron. The electron was discovered by


The sentences have the same meaning, but they have different topics: they are about different things. The topic of the first sentence is Thomson, and the topic of the second is the electron. The topic is the starting-point of the sentence and is usually the subject.

When the subject is the agent(the person or thing doing the action), then the verb is active (discovered). When the subject is not the agent, then the verb is passive (was discovered). The choice between active and passive is really about whether the subject is the agent or not, whether we are talking about someone (Thomson) doing something, or about something (the electron) that the action is directed at.

Note that the electron is object of the active sentence and subject of the passive sentence.


Usually the agent is a person and the action is directed at a thing. But this is not always so.

Lightning struck a golfer. A golfer was struck by lightning.

Here the agent is lightning and the action is directed at a golfer. The agent can also be an abstract idea.

Ambition drove the athletes to train hard. The athletes were driven by ambition. The victim was struck with a sandbag,

2. New information

A sentence contains a topic and also new information about the topic. The new information usually comes at or near the end of the sentence.

Thomson discovered the electron.

The topic is Thomson. The new information is that he discovered the electron. The electron is the important piece of new information, the point of interest.

The new information can be the agent.

The electron was discovered by Thomson.

Here the electron is the topic. The new information is that its discoverer was

Thomson. Thomson is the point of interest, and it comes at the end of the sentence

in a phrase with by. Here are some more examples of the agent as point of interest.

James Bond was created by Ian Fleming.

The scheme has been put forward by the government.

The first football World Cup was won by Uruguay.

In a passive sentence the point of interest can be other information such as time, place, manner or instrument.

The electron was discovered in 1897.

The electron was discovered at Cambridge.

The gas should be lit carefully.

The gas should be lit with a match.

Here we do not mention the agent at all.

3 Passive sentences without an agent

a In a passive sentence we mention the agent only if it is important new information. There is often no need to mention it.


Every day your heart pumps enough blood to fill the fuel tanks of about 400 cars. The population of the world increases by about 200,000. Nine million cigarettes are smoked. 740,000 people fly off to foreign countries.... In America 10,000 crimes are committed, and in Japan twenty million commuters cram into trains. In Russia 1.3 million telegrams are sent.... 200,000 tons of fish are caught and 7,000 tons of wool are sheared off sheep. (from J. Reid It Can't Be True!)

There is no need to say that nine million cigarettes are smoked by smokers all over the world, or that in America 10,000 crimes are committed by criminals. This is already clear from the context. Here are some more examples.

A new government has been elected. The man was arrested.

'Hamlet' was written in 1601.

It is well known that 'Hamlet' was written by Shakespeare, so we do not need to mention it. For the same reason, we do not need to say that the man was arrested by police or the government elected by the people.


We use the verb bear (a child) mainly in the passive and without an agent.

Charles Dickens was born in Portsea.

The agent may not be relevant to the message.

A large number of Sherlock Holmes films have been made.

The atom was regarded as solid until the electron was discovered in 1897.

The makers of the films and the discoverer of the electron are not relevant. The sentences are about the number of films and the time of the discovery.

c Sometimes we do not know the identity of the agent.

My car was stolen.

The phrase by a thief would add no information. But we can use an agent if there is some information.

My car was stolen by two teenagers.

d Sometimes we do not mention the agent because we do not want to.

Mistakes have been made.

This use of the passive without an agent is a way of not saying who is responsible.

Compare the active I/We have made mistakes.

4 Empty subjects

Even when the agent is not important or not known, we do not always use the

passive. Especially in informal speech, we can use you, one, we, they, people or

someone as vague and 'empty' subjects. But a passive sentence is preferred in

more formal English.

Active: You/One can't do anything about it.

Passive: Nothing can be done about it.

Active: We/People use electricity for all kinds of purposes.

Passive: Electricity is used for all kinds of purposes.

Active: They're building some new houses.

Passive: Some new houses are being built.

5 Typical contexts for the passive

We can use the passive in speech, but it is more common in writing, especially in

the impersonal style of textbooks and reports.

a To describe industrial and scientific processes

The ore is usually dug out of the ground.

The paint is then pumped into a large tank, where it is thinned.

If sulphur is heated, a number of changes can be seen.

b To describe historical and social processes

A new political party was formed.

Thousands of new homes have been built.

A lot of money is given to help the hungry.

c Official rules and procedures

The service is provided under a contract.

This book must be returned to the library by the date above.

Application should be made in writing.

The active equivalent We provide the service..., You must return this book... is

less formal and less impersonal.

6 Verbs which cannot be passive

a An intransitive verb cannot be passive. These sentences have no passive


Something happened. He slept soundly. The cat ran away.

But most phrasal and prepositional verbs which have an object can be passive.

We ran over a cat./The cat was run over.

b Some state verbs cannot be passive, e.g. be, belong, exist, have (= own), lack,

resemble, seem, suit. These sentences have no passive equivalent.

Tom has a guitar. The building seemed empty.

Some verbs can be either action verbs or state verbs, e.g. measure, weigh, fit, cost.

They can be passive only when they are action verbs.

Action & active: The decorator measured the wall.

Action & passive: The wall was measured by the decorator.

State: The wall measured three metres.

but NOT Three metres was measured by the wall.

But some state verbs can be passive, e.g. believe, intend, know, like, love, mean,

need, own, understand, want.

The building is owned by an American company.

Old postcards are wanted by collectors.

Tenses and aspects in the passive

The lowest monthly death toll on French roads for 30 years was announced by the

Transport Ministry for the month of August. The results were seen as a direct triumph for the new licence laws, which led to a bitter truck drivers strike in July.

Some 789 people died on the roads last month, 217 fewer than in August last year. (from Early Times)

Cocaine worth £290 million has been seized by the FBI in a case which is being called 'the chocolate connection'. The 6,000 lb of drugs were hidden in blocks of chocolate aboard an American ship that docked in Port Newark, New Jersey, from

Ecuador. (from The Mail on Sunday)

Modal verbs in the passive

1 We can use the passive with a modal verb (or an expression like have to). The pattern is modal verb + be + passive participle.

Stamps can be bought at any post office.

Animals should really be seen in their natural habitat.

Meals have to be prepared every day.

Many things that used to be done by hand are now done by machine.


For an adjective ending in able/ible meaning that something 'can be done', • 285(4i).

Stamps are obtainable at any post office.

2 A modal verb can also go with the perfect and the passive together. The pattern is

modal verb + have been + passive participle.

I can't find that piece of paper. It must have been thrown away.

The plane might have been delayed by the fog.

This bill ought to have been paid weeks ago.

The passive with get

1 We sometimes form the passive with get rather than with be.

The vase got broken when we moved. We get paid monthly.

It was so hot my shoulders were getting burnt.

If you don't lock your bike, it might get stolen.

We use the passive with get mainly in informal English, and it has a more limited

use than be. The passive with get expresses action and change, not a state. It often

refers to something happening by accident, unexpectedly or incidentally. (Note

that the payment of salaries is a small, incidental part of a company's whole

activities.) We do not use get for a major, planned action.

NOT Wembley Stadium got built in 1923.

In simple tenses we use the auxiliary do in negatives and questions.

I forgot to leave the dustbin out, so it didn't get emptied.

How often do these offices get cleaned?

2 We also use get + passive participle in some idiomatic expressions.

There wasn't enough time to get washed. (= wash oneself)

Such expressions are: get washed, get shaved, get (un)dressed, get changed; get

engaged, get married, get divorced; get started (= start), get lost (= lose one's way).

The passive with verbs of giving

The idioms get washed/shaved/dressed/changed are much more common than

wash myself etc. But we can use wash etc in the active without an object.

There wasn't much time to wash and change.

NOTE For I got my hair cut, • 111.

3 After get there can be an adjective in ed.

I'd just got interested in the film when the phone rang.

(= I'd just become interested in the film ...)

Some other adjectives used after get are bored, confused, drunk, excited and tired.

The passive with verbs of giving

1 In the active, give can have two objects.

The nurse gives the patient a sleeping pill.

Either of these objects can be the subject of a passive sentence.

A sleeping pill is given to the patient.

The patient is given a sleeping pill.

We can use other verbs in these patterns, e.g. send, offer, award. • (3)

2 Here are two ways in which a court case about paying damages might be reported.


£1 million pound damages were awarded in the High Court in London yesterday to a cyclist who was left completely paralysed after a road accident. The damages are the highest ever paid to a road accident victim in a British court.


A cyclist who was left completely paralysed after a road accident was awarded

£1 million damages at the High Court in London yesterday. The court heard that

Mr Graham Marks was hit by a car as he was cycling along the A303 near Sparkford in Somerset.

Compare these two sentences, one from each report.

£ 1 million damages were awarded to a cyclist.

A cyclist was awarded £1 million damages.

Both sentences are passive, but one has £1 million damages as its subject, and the other has a cyclist as its subject. The first report is about the damages, and it tells us who received them. The second is about a cyclist, and it tells us what he received.

3 It is quite normal in English for the person receiving something to be the subject.

Here are some more examples.

The chairman was handed a note. I've been offered a job.

We were told all the details. The residents will be found new homes.

We can use these verbs in the passive pattern: allow deny leave promise tell ask feed lend refuse throw award find offer send bring give owe sell buy grant pass show charge hand pay teach

The passive with verbs of reporting

There are two special patterns with verbs of reporting.

Active: They say that elephants have good memories.

Passive: It is said that elephants have good memories-

Elephants are said to have good memories.

There is an example of each pattern in this paragraph.


It is now thought that Stonehenge - the great stone circle - dates from about

1900 BC. Until recently the circle was popularly believed to be a Druid temple and a place of human sacrifice, but this is not in fact so. The stones were put up long before the Druids came to Britain.

1 It + passive verb + finite clause

It is thought that Stonehenge dates from about 1900 BC.

This pattern is often used in news reports where there is no need to mention the source of the information.

It was reported that the army was crossing the frontier.

It has been shown that the theory is correct.

It is proposed that prices should increase next year.

In Pattern 1 we can use these verbs: admit declare hope propose show agree discover intend prove state allege establish know recommend suggest announce estimate mention regret suppose assume expect notice report think believe explain object request understand claim fear observe reveal consider feel presume say decide find promise see

2 Subject + passive verb + to-infinitive

Compare these patterns.

Pattern 1: It is thought that Stonehenge dates from about 1900 BC.

Pattern 2: Stonehenge is thought to date from about 1900 BC.

In Pattern 2 we can use these verbs: allege declare find presume see assume discover intend prove show believe estimate know report suppose claim expect mean reveal think consider feel observe say understand

The infinitive can also be perfect or continuous, or it can be passive.

The army was reported to be crossing the frontier.

The prisoner is known to have behaved violently in the past.

Stonehenge is thought to have been built over a period of 500 years.

Passive + to-infinitive or active participle


We can use the pattern with the subject there.

There is considered to be little chance of the plan succeeding.

It + passive verb + to-infinitive

Active: The committee agreed to support the idea.

Passive: It was agreed to support the idea.

We can use this pattern only with the verbs agree, decide and propose.

The agent with verbs of reporting

We can express the agent in all three patterns.

It was reported by the BBC that the army was crossing the frontier.

The theory has been shown by scientists to be correct.

It was agreed by the committee to support the idea.

Passive + to-infinitive or active participle

Some patterns with a verb + object + infinitive/active participle have a passive equivalent.

1 Infinitive

a Active: Police advise drivers to use an alternative route.

Passive: Drivers are advised to use an alternative route.

We can use this passive pattern with verbs like tell, ask, persuade, warn, advise,


We can also use a finite clause after the passive verb.

Drivers are advised that an alternative route should be used.

b Active: The terrorists made the hostages lie down.

Passive: The hostages were made to lie down.

In the passive pattern we always use a to-infinitive (to lie) even if in the active there

is a bare infinitive (lie). This happens after make and after verbs of perception such

as see.


We do not often use let in the passive. We use be allowed to instead.

The hostages were allowed to talk to each other.

2 Active participle

Active: The detective saw the woman putting the jewellery in her bag.

Passive: The woman was seen putting the jewellery in her bag.

Active: The officials kept us waiting for half an hour.

Passive: We were kept waiting for half an hour.

In this pattern we can use verbs of perception (see) and catch, find, keep, leave, lose, spend, and waste.

PAGE 139

111 Patterns with have and get

1 The active: have/get + object + infinitive

This pattern means 'cause someone to do something'. Have takes a bare infinitive and get a to-infinitive.

I had the garage service my car.

I got the garage to service my car.

This active pattern with have is more common in the USA than in Britain, where it is rather formal. Get is informal.

2 The passive: have/get + object + passive participle

This pattern means 'cause something to be done'.

I had my car serviced.

I got my car serviced.

This means that I arranged for someone, for example a garage, to service my car; I did not service it myself. We use this pattern mainly to talk about professional services to a customer.

You should have/get the job done professionally.

I had/got the machine repaired only last week.

We're having/getting a new kitchen fitted.

Where did you have/get your hair cut?

Both have and get are ordinary verbs which can be continuous (are having/are getting) and which take the auxiliary do (did... have/get...?) Get is more informal

han have.


a Compare these two patterns with had something done: We had a burglar alarm fitted (by a security company) some time ago.

Past perfect: We had fitted a burglar alarm (ourselves) some time before that.

b We can use get informally meaning 'cause oneself to do something' or 'get on with a job'.

I must get my homework done. We finally got everything packed into suitcases.

Here it is the subject (1, we) who must do the homework and who packed the suitcases.

3 Have meaning 'experience'

We can use the same pattern with have meaning 'experience something', often something unpleasant. The subject is the person to whom something happens.

We had a window broken in the storm.

My sister has had some money stolen.

The passive to-infinitive and gerund

1 Forms

Active Passive

To-infinitive to play to be played

Perfect to-infinitive to have played to have been played

Gerund playing being played

Perfect gerund having played having been played

The passive forms end with a passive participle (played).


Passive forms can sometimes have get instead of be. • 107

I don't expect to get invited to the wedding. Let's not risk getting caught in a traffic jam.

2 Patterns

The passive to-infinitive and gerund can come in the same patterns as the active forms, for example after some verbs or adjectives.

a To-infinitive

I expect to be invited to the wedding. It's awful to be criticized in public.

I'd like this rubbish to be cleared away as soon as possible.


After decide and agree we use a finite clause with should. • 242(2)

We decided that the rubbish should be cleared away.

After arrange we can use a to-infinitive pattern with for.

We arranged for the rubbish to be cleared away.

b Perfect to-infinitive

I'd like this rubbish to have been cleared away when I get back.

c Gerund

Being searched by customs officers is unpleasant.

Let's not risk being caught in a traffic jam. I was afraid of being laughed at.

The government tried to stop the book being published.


After suggest, propose, recommend and advise we use a finite clause with should. • 242(2)

The Minister proposed that the book should be banned.

d Perfect gerund

I'm annoyed at having been made a fool of.

3 Use of the passive forms

Compare the subjects in the active and passive clauses.

Active: I'd like someone to clear away this rubbish.

Passive: I'd like this rubbish to be cleared away.

In the active, the subject of the clause is someone, the agent. In the passive it is this rubbish, the thing the action is directed at.


When the main clause and the infinitive or gerund clause have the same subject, then we do not repeat the subject.

I expect to be invited to the wedding.

(= I expect that I shall be invited to the wedding.)

The understood subject of to be invited is I.

113 Active forms with a passive meaning

1 Gerund

The active gerund after need, want (= need), require and deserve has a passive meaning.

These windows need painting. The cupboard wants tidying out.

We cannot use the passive gerund here.

2 To-infinitive

a We sometimes use an active to-infinitive to talk about jobs we have to do.

We've got these windows to paint.

I had some homework to do.

When the subject of the sentence is the agent, the person who has to do the job, then we use the active infinitive, not the passive.

If the subject of the sentence is not the agent, then we use the passive infinitive.

These windows have to be painted.

The homework was to be done by the next day.

After the subject there, we can use either an active or a passive infinitive.

There are a lot of windows to paint/to be painted.

There was some homework to do/to be done.


We do not normally use the passive infinitive for leisure activities.

There are lots of exciting things to do here.

b After an adjective phrase, the infinitive is usually active.

This machine isn't safe to use.

The piano is too heavy to move.

That box isn't strong enough to sit on.

If we use a phrase with by and the agent, then the infinitive is passive.

The piano is too heavy to be moved by one person.

(= The piano is too heavy for one person to move.)


Compare ready and due.

The meal was ready to serve/to be served at eight.

The meal was due to be served at eight.

3 Main verbs

There are a few verbs that we can use in the active form with a passive meaning.

The singer's latest record is selling like hot cakes.

This sentence doesn't read quite right.

This sweater has washed OK.