• They built the house in 1980. • The house was built in 1980.
• When we say what people and • When we say what happens to
things do, we use active verbs people and things – what is done
forms. to them – we often use passive
Active - Passive transformation
1-Direct or Indirect object becomes the subject of the passive.
2-The verb of the active is replaced by the appropriate form of
the auxiliary “be” plus the past participle of the verb.
3-The subject of the active becomes the agent in the passive.
ACTIVE: The police caught the burglar
PASSIVE: The burglar was caught by the police
The passive of the active tenses is formed by putting “to be” into
the same tense as the active verb and adding the past participle
of the active verb.
Verb tense in the active Example Passive transformation
Present Simple moves Am/is/are moved
Past Simple moved Was/were moved
Present Continuous Am/is/are moving Am/is/are being moved
Past Continuous Was/were moving Was/were being moved
Present Perfect Have/has moved Have/has been moved
Past Perfect Had moved Had been moved
Present Perfect Cont. Have/has been moving Have/has been being moved
Past Perfect Cont. Was/were been moving Was/were been being moved
Modal + base form Will move Will be moved
Modal + Cont./ Prog. Will be moving Will be being moved
Modal Perfect Will have moved Will have been moved
Modal Perfect Cont. Will have been moving Will have been being moved
Infinitive I let somebody teach Ann I let Ann be taught
To-infinitive We all like people to love us. We all like to be laughed
Gerund I saw somebody teaching Tom I saw Tom being taught.
There are 3 types of verbs to take into account when talking about passives:
1-intransitive: you cannot use them in passive voice because they don’t have
an object: rise, sleep, appear, be. But, there are certain verbs of
movement, which in Spanish are typically intransitive and in English they
can admit a passive voice: like fly, walk, run, etc.
They have never flown this plane.
This plane has never been flown.
2-transitive: you can use them in passive voice, they are verbs with objects.
But there are a few transitive verbs that are rarely used in passives: get
back, put out, get down (write), let, show off, take after, etc.
-transitive and intransitive at the same time: follow, pass.
-I passed that shop on my way home. (transitive) → (P): That shop
was passed by…
-The procession passes through those gates. (intransitive): no
Verbs with 2 objects
-When the active sentence has 2 objects:
Tony has told Ann the news.
-a direct object, usually denoting a thing (the news).
-an indirect object usually denoting a person (Ann)
there are two possible passives:
1.Ann has been told the news by Tony.
(which is more common, here we want to highlight the importance
of the receiver of the action)
2.The news have been told to Ann by Tony.
(when the direct object is made the subject, the indirect is often
preceded by a preposition)
Impersonal Passive Sentences (I)
-They are passives in which we don’t know who the agent is.
-Verbs employed: say, tell, report, know, think, consider, believe, imagine
-There are 3 possibilities of formation:
1. (A) It is said that she is going to be married next week.
(P) She is said to be married next week. (when there is a different subject)
2. (A) It was reported that a war has been declared in Iraq.
(P) A war was reported to have been declared in Iraq. (same subject)
3.The verbs : believe, consider and imagine have 3 possible constructions:
1.It was considered that he has been shot.
2.He was considered to have been shot.
3.He was considered shot. (without auxiliaries)
-Some sentences with infinitives or clauses as their objects which cannot
become subject in the passive. However passive structures are often
possible if it is used as a preparatory subject.
Impersonal Passive Sentences (II)
-Translation of “Pasivas reflejas” used in Spanish when the mention of
the subject of the action is not important or when the speaker does not want
to make it clear who is it. The best way to translate them into English is
using a passive.
Se (le) ha roto el libro. → The book was / got broken.
(the use of got gives the sentence a causative sense)
-Translation of Spanish Reflexives: Se hirió con un cuchillo.
-usual translation: done with a reflexive pronoun:
He hurt himself with a knife.
-the verb get can also be used: He got hurt with a knife.
But there is a difference in meaning:
He hurt himself with a knife. It implies he deliberately hurt himself.
He got hurt with a knife. It implies unknown agent or an accident.
Prepositional verbs and phrasal verbs
1-Prepositional verbs: transitive verbs followed by a preposition: ask for,
believe in, care for, deal with, sit on, etc.
(A) Somebody sat on my hat. (P) My hat was sat on.
2-Ditransitive prepositional verbs: verbs whose direct object must be
introduced by a preposition and that normally allow only one passive with the
indirect object as subject:
We reminded him of the agreement → He was reminded of the agreement.
Ind. Direct Object Ind.
DITRANSITIVE VERBS (examples): change with, compare to, congratulate on, convince
of, deprive of, inform of, introduce to, punish for, remind of, refer to, rob of, sentence to,
-Some can be separated:
(A)He throw the book away. (P)The book was thrown away.
-And some not:
(A)They laughed at him. (P)He was laughed at.
To-Infinitive and that-clauses
-Passive of the to-infinitive:
We all like people to love us.
We all like to be loved.
-Passive of a that-clause:
They thought that she was a spy.
It was thought that she was a spy
Verbs with object + infinitive
-Many verbs can be followed by object + infinitive. In most cases these structures can be
He asked me to send a letter. I was asked to send a letter.
They believe him to be dangerous. He was believed to be dangerous.
We all like people to love us. We all like to be loved.
-Infinitives without “to”: hear, see, make and help can be followed, in active
structures, by object + inf. without to. In passive structures we must use “to-
I saw him come out of the house.
He was seen to come out of the house. (Use TO in the passive)
-Preparatory “there”: with some verbs (say, think, report, understand), the passive
structure is possible with there as a “preparatory subject”:
There are thought to be more than 3,000 different languages in the world
There was said to be disagreement between the Prime Minister and the
Home Secretary. (also “ It is said that there was…”)
After some verbs the direct object can be
followed by a complement, a noun or adjective
which describes or classifies the object. In the
passive they come after the verb:
They elected Bush president.
Bush was elected president.
Queen Victoria considered him a genius.
He was considered a genius by Queen Victoria.
Verbs followed by a gerund
This type of sentences follows the general
rule. We have to distinguish between
durative and instantaneous actions.
We heard them singing.(durative)
They were heard singing.
We heard them sing.(instantaneous)
They were heard to sing.
The passive with “get”
-Get + past participle is also used to make passive structures, in
the same way as be + past participle.
My watch got broken.
He got caught by the police.
-Get + object + past participle: this structure can be used to
-“finish doing something”. The past participle has a passive meaning:
It will take me another hour to get the washing done.
-“arrange for something to be done by somebody else”:
I must get my hair cut.
You ought to get your car repaired.
-“experience” to talk about things that happen to us:
I got my car stolen.
When we want to imply that the
result has been gradually
obtained, we use to become
instead of to be or to get:
-The window was broken by my son
-I know how the window got broken.
(emphasis on result, causative)
-With the passing of the time the
window became covered in dust.
They can have two passives because they have two noun phrases:
They have made good use of the house
(P1)Good use had been made of the house. -direct object
(P2)The house had been made good use of.- direct object
EXPRESSIONS: catch sight of, give place to, give way to,
keep pace with, lose sight of, lose touch with, lose track
to, make allowance for, make fun of, make a fuss
over/about, make room for, make use of, pay attention
to, put an end to, put a stop to, set fire to, take account
of, take advantage of, take care of, take note of, take
BY and WITH
We have to distinguish between the:
-agentive: is animate and initiates the
cause. We have to use “BY”.
The window was broken by a boy.
-instrument: usually inanimate and
does not initiate the cause. By or
with are possible:
The window was broken with a ball.
Uses of the passive voice
-when we want to talk about an action, and we are not interested in who/what does/did
it. Passives without agents are common in academic and scientific writing. That is,
the action is more important than the agent, the doer).
Those pyramids were built around 400 AD
The positive hydrogen atoms are attracted to the negative oxygen atoms.
-when we want to begin a sentence with something that is already known, and then we
put the “news” at the end, here we use an agent:
Nice picture! Yes, it was painted by my grandmother, she was a great artist.
-when the agent is people in general: Drugs were taken last night at the disco.
-when we don’t know who the agent is: It is said that John has an affair with Ann.
-when the agent is obvious from the context: 10 m. € were stolen from the bank
-when writing notices: English spoken /Children not admitted/ Books sold.
Active structures with passive meanings: meaning and grammar do not always
got together. The gerund can have a passive meaning in some verbs: need, deserve,
My watch needs cleaning. (also: needs to be cleaned)
My car needs washing.
Your house deserves taking care of.
This proposal requires examining.
The passive voice is widely used in English. Its
management implies idiomatic management of the
language. Many Spanish structures such as the
reflexive “se dice, se cree, se piensa…” are expressed
in English with the passive voice. It is also used in
newspapers, and in formal and scientific writing.
That’s why we should teach our students to use it