Grammar II S2 Professor
Bouayad Group 2
Compare the active and passive sentences.
Active: The secretary typed
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 (…by 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,
A passive verb has a form of be and
a passive participle.
Tenses and aspects in the passive • 105
The letter was posted yesterday.
Modal verbs in the passive • 106
All tickets must be shown.
The passive with get •107
Sometimes we use get instead of be.
The letter got lost in the post.
The passive with verbs of giving • 108
The pupils were all given certificates.
104 The use of the passive
The passive with verbs of reporting • 109
It is said that the company is bankrupt.
The company is said to be bankrupt.
Passive + to-infinitive or active
participle • 110
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
I had/got the photos developed.
The passive to-infinitive and gerund • 112
We don’t want to be refused entry.
I hate being photographed.
Active forms with a passive meaning • 113
The sheets need washing.
I’ve got some shopping to do.
The oven cleans easily.
OVERVIEW: active and passive verb forms • 114
104 The use of the passive
1. The topic
Compare these two sentences.
Thomson discovered the electron. The electron was
discovered by Thomson.
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
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
Note that the electron is object of
the active sentence and subject of the passive sentence.
a. Usually the
agent is a person and the action is directed at a thing. But this is not always
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.
b. For The victim was struck with a sandbag.
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
The first football World Cup was won by
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
The gas should be lit carefully.
The gas should be lit with a match.
Here we do not mention the agent at all.
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.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE WORLD
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
‘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.
b. 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
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
Passive: Some new houses are being
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
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.
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
6. Verbs which
cannot be passive
a. An intransitive verb cannot be passive. These
sentences have no passive equivalent.
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
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 & active: The decorator measured
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
Old postcards are wanted by
105 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)
A passive verb has a form of be and
a passive participle. Be is in the same tense as the equivalent active
form. The passive participle has the same form as a past participle: announced,
Active: The Ministry announced the
figure. (past simple)
Passive: The figure was announced. (past
simple of be + passive participle)
a. Simple tenses (simple form of be +
Large numbers of people are killed on
The drugs were found by the police.
b. The perfect (perfect of be + passive
Cocaine has been seized by the FBI.
The drugs had been loaded onto the
ship in Ecuador.
c. The continuous (continuous of be + passive
The case is being called ‘the
Three men were being questioned by
detectives last night.
d Will and be going to (future
of be + passive participle)
The drugs will be destroyed.
The men are going to be charged with
We form negatives and questions in the same
way as in active sentences. In the negative not comes after the (first)
auxiliary; in questions there is inversion of subject and (first) auxiliary.
Negative: The drugs were not found
by customs officers.
The law hasn’t been changed.
Question: Where were the drugs
Has the law been changed?
We use by in a question about the
Who were the drugs found by?
we use a phrasal or prepositional verb in the passive, the adverb or preposition
(e.g. down, for) comes after the passive participle.
The tree was cut down last week.
Has the doctor been sent for?
Note also verb + adverb + preposition, and
verbal idioms with prepositions.
Such out-of-date practices should be done
The poor child is always being made fun
can sometimes use a participle as a modifier, like an adjective: a broken
can also put the participle after be. The vase was broken can express either
a state or an action.
State: The vase was broken. It
lay in pieces on the floor,
(be + complement) The drugs were hidden in
the ship. They were in blocks of chocolate.
Action: The vase was broken by a
guest. He knocked it over. (passive verb) The drugs were hidden (by
the gang) and then loaded onto the ship.
NOTE The vase got broken expresses
106 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 +
Stamps can be bought at any post
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’.
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
This bill ought to have been paid weeks
108 The passive with verbs of giving
1. In the active, give can have two
The nurse gives the patient a sleeping
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.
MILLION POUND DAMAGES AWARDED
£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.
CYCLIST AWARDED MILLION POUNDS
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
£ 1 million damages were awarded to a cyclist.
A cyclist was awarded £1 million
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.
109 The passive with verbs of reporting
There are two special patterns with verbs
Active: They say that
elephants have good memories.
Passive: It is said that
elephants have good memories-
Elephants are said to have good
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
The prisoner is known to have behaved violently
in the past.
Stonehenge is thought to have been built
over a period of 500 years.
110 Passive + to-infinitive or active
We can use the pattern with the subject there.
There is considered to be little chance of the
3. It + passive
verb + to-infinitive
Active: The committee agreed to support
Passive: It was agreed to support
We can use this pattern only with the verbs
agree, decide and propose.
4. 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
It was agreed by the committee to
support the idea.
110 Passive + to-infinitive or active
Some patterns with a verb + object +
infinitive/active participle have a passive equivalent.
Active: Police advise drivers to use an
Passive: Drivers are advised to use an
We can also use a finite clause after the passive
Drivers are advised that an alternative
route should be used.
Active: The terrorists made the hostages
Passive: The hostages were made to
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
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.
With a participle
With an infinitive
Active Someone saw him running away.
Passive He was seen running away.
Someone saw him run away.
He was seen to run away.
111 Patterns with have and get
1. The active: have/get + object +
This pattern means ’cause someone to do
something’. Have takes a bare infinitive and get a to-infinitive.
I had the garage service my
I got the garage to service my
This active pattern with have is more
common in the USA than in Britain, where it is rather formal. Get is
2. The passive:
have/get + object + passive participle
This pattern means ’cause something to be
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
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
Compare these two patterns with had.
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.
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
My sister has had some money stolen.
112 The passive to-infinitive and gerund
to be played
to have played
to have been played
having been played
The passive forms end with a passive
Passive forms can sometimes have get instead
I don’t expect to get invited to the
wedding. Let’s not risk getting caught in a traffic jam.
The passive to-infinitive and gerund can
come in the same patterns as the active forms, for example after some verbs or
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.
We decided that the rubbish should be
After arrange we can use a
to-infinitive pattern with for.
We arranged for the rubbish to be
b. Perfect to-infinitive
I’d like this rubbish to have been
cleared away when I get back.
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
After suggest, propose, recommend and
advise we use a finite clause with should.
The Minister proposed that the book should
d. Perfect gerund
I’m annoyed at having been made a
3. Use of the passive forms
Compare the subjects in the active and
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 thisrubbish, 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
The understood subject of to be invited is
114 Overview: active and passive verb forms
1. Tenses and
They play the match.
The match is
They are playing the match.
The match is
They have played the match.
The match has
They played the match.
The match was
They were playing the match.
The match was
They had played the match.
The match had
They will play the match.
They are going to play the match.
The match will
The match is going to be played.
2. Modal verbs
They should play it.
They ought to play it.
It ought to
Modal + perfect infinitive
They should have played it.
They ought to have played it.
It ought to have been played
3. To-infinitive and gerund
I wanted them to play the match.
I wanted the match to be played.
They expect to have played the match
They expect the match to have been played
They left without playing the match.
They left without the match being played.
They left without having played the
They left without the match having