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Grammar: The Passive
ICartoon man (Andy Avatar) waving - How to make a phone call in Englishn this lesson, you’ll learn how to use the Passive. Listen to the audio explanation so you can hear how to say the words or expressions.

Look at this sentence: “Pete took a photo.”
This is an active sentence with the subject (Pete) at the start of the sentence, followed by the verb (took) and an object (a photo).

With active sentences, the subject (the person doing the action) is the main focus of the sentence:

  • Oscar designs the posters.
  • Stephanie prepares the bank statements.

However, with the Passive Voice, the object becomes the focus of the sentence:

  • The posters are designed [by Oscar].
  • The statements are prepared [by Stephanie].

We generally use the Passive Voice when we want to focus on the action – not the person performing the action. We form passive sentences with the verb to be and a past participle: 

  • All the food was eaten.
  • The thieves have been arrested.

Here are some of the most important passive structures!

  • Present Simple Passive: is / are + a past participle = The shoes are made here.
  • Present Continuous Passive: is being / are being + a past participle = The food is being prepared.
  • Past Simple Passive: was / were + a past participle = They were arrested.
  • Past Continuous Passive: was being / were being + a past participle = The report was being written.
  • Present Perfect Passive: have been / has been + a past participle = The money has been paid.
  • Past Perfect Passive: had been + a past participle = The e-mail had been sent yesterday.
  • Future Passive: will be + a past participle = The room will be cleaned later today.
  • Future Passive: is going to be / are going to be + a past participle = The text is going to be edited.
  • Future Perfect Passive: will have been + a past participle = The work will have been completed by next week.
  • Infinitive passives: verb + to be + a past participle = This room needs to be cleaned.
  • Modal verb passives: modal verb + be + a past participle = The building can’t be seen from here.
  •  Perfect modal verb passives: modal verb + have been + past participle = The work should have been completed last week. / They must have been given the wrong information.

We also use the passive when…

  • …we don’t know who performs the action = “The bills are paid every Friday.”
  • …it isn’t important who performs the action = “The rooms will be cleaned after breakfast.”
  • …it’s obvious who performs the action = “The road is being repaired.” [Obviously, builders are repairing the road.]
  • …we want to distance ourselves from something = “Sometimes, mistakes are made.” [This is instead of saying, “I make mistakes”, which implies personal responsibility.]
  • …we need to explain a process = “The chemical was placed in a test tube. Then, it was mixed with another substance.”

Grammar speaking drill
Now we’re going to practise using the language. Listen to the instructions, and do the exercises orally (by speaking)! Good luck! [Scroll down for the answers.]

Language drill
Listen and say the complete sentences with the correct words.

  1. The jewellery _______ by a French artist.
  2. The paintings _______ all over the world.
  3. The food _______ as we speak.
  4. Two men _______ on suspicion of burglary.
  5. The report _______ by a team of experts.
  6. The money _______. 
  7. The e-mail _______.
  8. It’s _______ later today.
  9. The work _______ by tomorrow evening.
  10. Who are they going _______?
  11. Where will _______?
  12. Are they going to be ?
  13. He was taken to hospital _______.
  14. She was awarded _______.
  15. I think everyone has been _______.
  16. They’re manufactured here _______.
  17. They won’t be paid _______.
  18. The situation is being analysed _______.
  19. We can’t be held accountable _______.
  20. The photo has _______.

1. was designed; 2. are sold; 3. is being prepared; 4. were arrested; 5. was being written; 6. has already been transferred; 7. had already been sent; 8. going to be checked; 9. will have been completed; 10. to be given to; 11. they be taken; 12. shown around the museum; 13. after the car crash; 14. a medal for bravery; 15. informed of the changes; 16. then shipped abroad; 17. so much next time; 18. on an hourly basis; 19. for other people’s mistakes; 20. already been taken

Now, try the quiz to see how much you can remember!

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