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The Passive Voice
The Passive Voice
• 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 by and placed at the and of the clause:
This three was planted by my grandfather.
• 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 the streets.
Passive. Wolves have been seen in the streets.
• 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:
The have/had been repairing the road and
They will/would be repairing the road.
are not normally put into the passive.
• Auxiliary + infinitive combiniations are made passive by using passive infinitive:
Active: You must/should shut these doors.
Passive. These doors must/should be shut.
Active. They should /ought to have told him. (Perfect infinitive active)
Passive: He should/ought to have been told. (Perfect infinitive passive)
• 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 met to go.
Passive: I was invited to go.
But with advice/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 advice etc: +that… should+ passive infinitive:
Active: He urged the Council tı 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 be sold.
• Gerund combinations
advise/insist/propose/recommend/suggest + gerund+ object are usually expressed in the passive by that…should, as above:
Active: He recommended usind bullet-proof glass.
Passive: He recommended that bullet-proof should be used.
it/ they + need + gerund can also be expressed by it it/they + need + passive infinitive. Both forms are pasive in meaning.
Other gerund combinations are expressed in the passive by the passive gerund:
Active. I remember them taking met o the Zoo.
Passive. I remember being taken to the Zoo.
Active tenses and their passive equivalents
Tense/Verb form Active Voice Passive Voice
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 has kept has been kept
Past perfect had kept had been kept
Future will keep will be kept
Conditional would keep would be kept
Perfect conditional 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
• In colloqual speech get is sometimes used instead of be:
The eggs got (= were) broken.
You’ll get (= be) sacked if you take any more time off.
• 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.
• Questions about the identity of the subject of an active verb are usually expressed by an affirmative :
What delayed you? Which team won?
Questions about the subject of a passive verb are also expressed by an affirmative:
Something was done. --- Why was done?
One of them was sold --- Which of them was sold.
Interrogative verbs in active questions about the object become affirmative verbs in passive questions:
Active: What did they stal? (interrogative)
Passive: What was stolen? (affirmative)
Conversely, affirmative verbs in active questions become interrogative verbs in passive questions:
Active: Who painted it? (affirmative)
Passive: Who was it painted by? (interrogative)
Other types of question require interrogative verbs in both active and passive:
Active: When/ Where/ Why did he paint it?
Passive: When/ Where/ Why was it painted?
Uses of the passive
The passive is used:
• When it is not necessary to mention the doer of the action as it is obvious who he is/ was/ will be:
The rubbish hasn’t been collected. The streets are swept every day.
Your hand will be X-rayed.
• When we don’t know, or don’t know exactly, or have forgotten who did the action:
The minister was ed. My car has been moved!
You’ll be met at the station. I’ve been told that…
• When the subject of the active verb would be “people”:
He is suspected of receiving stolen goods. (People suspect him of …)
They are supposed to be living in New York. (People suppose that they are living …)
• When the subject of the active sentence would be indefinite pronoun one: One sees this short of advertisement everywhere would usually be expressed:
This sort of advertisement is seen everywhere.
In colloquial speech we can use the idefinitite pronoun you and an active verb:
You see this sort of advertisement everywhere.
But more formal English requires one + active ver bor more usual passive form.
• When we are more interested in the action than the the person who does it:
The house next door has been bought (by a Mr Jones).
If, however, we know Mr Jones, we would use the active:
Your father’s friend, Mr Jones, has bought the house next door.
A new public library is being built (by our local council).
thought in more informal English we could use the indefinite pronoun they and an active verb:
They are building a new public library.
while a member of the Council will of course say:
We are/ The Council is building etc.
• The passive may be used to avoid an awkward or ungrammatical sentence. This is usually done be avoiding a change of subject:
When he arrived home a detective arrested him
would be beter than expressed:
When he arrived home he was arrested (by a detective)
When their mother was ill neighbours looked after the children
would be expressed:
When their mother ill the children were looked after by neighbours.
• The passive is sometimes preferred for psychological reasons.A speaker may use it to disclaim responsibility for disagreeable announcements:
EMPLOYER:Overtime rates are being reduced.
The active will, of course, be used for agreeable announcements:
I am/ We are going to increase overtime rates.
The speaker may know who performed the action but wish to avoid giving the name. Tom, who suspects Bill af opening his letters, may say tactfully:
These letter has been opened! instead of You’ve opened this letter!
• For the have + object+ past participle construction, I had the car reprayed.
Prepositions with passive verbs
• A 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 such sentences as:
Smoke filled the room. Paint covered the lock.
The rooms 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+ object combinations 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 quiet safely.
Passive: These cubs can be played with quiet safely.
Similary 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 passible passive forms:
It is considered/known/thought etc. that he is…
He is considered/known/thought etc. to be…
People said that he was jealous of her =
It was said that he was or He was said to be jealous of her.
The infinitive construction is the neater of the two. It is chiefly used with to be thought other infinitives can sometimes be used:
He is thought to have information which will be useful to the police.
When the thought concerns a previous action we use the perfect infinitive so that:
People believed that he was =
It was believed that he was or He was believed to be…
People know that he was =
It is known that he was or He is known to have been…
This construction can be used with the perfect infinitive any verb.
• 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 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/ You should know how to drive
thought He is supposed to be in Paris could mean either “He thought to be there” or “People suppose he is there”.
2. suppose in the passive can similarly be followed by the perfect infinitive ao 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 women =
People suppose that he escaped etc.
3. Infinitives place 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.
Let, however, is used without to:
Active: They let us go.
Passive: We were let go.
4. 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 be working = You should be working.
The perfect form of the continuous infinitive of also possible:
He is believed to have been waiting for a message =
People believed taht he was waiting for a message.
You are supposed to have been working =
You should have been working.
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