Active and passive - Easy Learning Grammar
Active sentencesIn the following example, the verb is active.
- The postman delivers hundreds of letters every day.
- He hid the money under the bed.
- The car knocked over a pedestrian.
- I’m sending the book by express delivery.
Passive sentencesIn the following example, the verb is in the passive.
- Thousands of letters are delivered every day.
- The injured man was helped by a passer-by.
- The man was being questioned by the police.
- The patient was operated on by a team of five surgeons.
- We use the passive to direct our listener’s attention to the important part of our message. For instance, in the first example of this section we do not need to know who delivers the letters, so all mention of the postman is left out.
- The passive can be used when we do not know who carries out the action expressed by the verb, or when it is not important that we should know. It is sometimes much more important to know what has happened than who or what did it.
- The money was hidden under the bed.
- The book is being sent by express delivery.
- An elderly man was run over while crossing the road.
- Roger has been given his promotion.
- The patient was operated on.
- the agent, i.e. who brought the action about. We show the agent with by.
- The window was broken by some boys.
- My brother was given extra tuition by his teacher.
- The old man was run over by a careless driver.
- The patient was operated on by a team of top surgeons.
- the instrument, i.e. what was used to make the action happen. We show the instrument with by or with.
- The sorting is done by machine.
- The safe was blown open with dynamite.
- The old man was knocked over by a bus.
- I was showered with presents on my eighteenth birthday.
- the means, i.e. what caused the action to happen. We show the means with by or with.
- The window was shattered by the explosion.
- He was exhausted with the strain of caring for his elderly parents.
- Spelling errors are marked with a cross in the margin.
- He was taken to hospital by ambulance.
The subject of a passive verbThe verb in a passive sentence has the word that would normally be its object in the position of the subject. When a verb has two objects, either the indirect object or the direct object of the active verb may become the subject of the passive verb.
- I’ve been offered a place at university.
- We were given a second chance.
- The building has been sold to property developers.
- The medal is awarded to students who have shown academic excellence.
Form of the passivePassive verbs are made from a form of be + the past participle of a main verb. In the passive, the form of the auxiliary verb be indicates the tense.
- They sell cheap computer games here.
- Cheap computer games are sold here.
- They took him to the police station for questioning.
- He was taken to the police station for questioning.
- Some verbs are only or mostly used in the passive, e.g. be born and be deemed.
- The film was deemed unsuitable for younger audiences.
- My brother and I were born in Wales.
The impersonal passiveThis form of the passive sentence is useful when you want to report what is or was generally understood or accepted by a group of people.
- The suitcase was found to be empty.
- The money is thought to be missing.
- The rumour is believed to be true.
- It is reported that over a hundred people died in the explosion.
- It is said that his income is over £200 a minute.
The passive with getIn informal English, a type of passive is sometimes made with get instead of be.
- How did that teapot get broken?
- Our cat got run over last week.
- Harriet got lost on the Underground.
- When are you two getting married?
The causative passive with haveThere is another kind of verbal group that is like the passive, because the person who carries out the action of the main verb is not the person who is the subject of the clause. It expresses the idea that the subject caused or ordered someone to take the action mentioned.
- We are having the garage door replaced.
- She had her hair cut short.
- They did not have the carpet cleaned after all.
- Ralph repaired his car = Ralph did the work.
- Ralph had his car repaired = He paid someone else to do the work.