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Form. Phrase Structure: pass  be . . . –en. Long Passive: the agent is expressed in the by-phrase. Short Passive: the agent is unexpressed . The Passive with Tense and Aspect. Simple present passive: The dog is bathed outside. With Modals:. The dog should be bathed outside.

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Phrase Structure: pass be . . . –en

Long Passive: the agent is expressed in the by-phrase

Short Passive: the agent is unexpressed


The Passive with Tense and Aspect

Simple present passive: The dog is bathed outside.

With Modals:

The dog should be bathed outside.

With Present Progressive:

The dog is being bathed outside.

With Present Perfect:

The dog has been bathed outside.

With Simple Past:

The dog was bathed outside.

With Past Progressive:

The dog was being bathed outside.

With be going to for future:

The dog is going to be bathed



Be versus Get

1. Be and get don’t function the same in questions:

Was Henry arrested?

Did Henry get arrested?

and negatives:

Henry wasn’t arrested.

Henry didn’t get arrested.

We must include operator addition when using GET

in questions and negatives.

  • 2. Get-passive can occur more readily with the perfect progressives:

His plans have been getting sidetracked for years. Vs. His plans have been being sidetracked for years.



Have . . . NP . . . –en. Note the different form due to the intervening noun phrase.

Mark had his appointment cancelled.

This sentence can have two meanings:

  • Passive (Experiential):Someone else cancelled the appointment; it was beyond Mark’s control.
  • Causative: Mark arranged for his meeting to be cancelled.

Passive Only

What’s the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs?


Take an object


Don’t take an object

Only transitive verbs may be in the passive voice.

Some passive sentences have no active voice counterpart:

President Obama was born in 1961.

? His mother bore President Obama in 1961.

Other verbs that occur commonly in the passive voice include but are not limited to:

be deemed, be fined, be hospitalized, be jailed, be scheduled, etc.

Death row inmate is deemed mentally ill.


Extra police scheduled for occupied Tucson.

Dad is jailed for putting son in oven.



The passive has a grammatical meaning: it focuses on putting the receiver of the action in the subject position and the subject is thus acted upon. As Shibitani (1985) states, the agent is “defocused”.

The passive requires a transitive verb; however, not every passive sentence with a transitive verb is acceptable.

  • 1. The more definite the subject, the better
  • A. This car was made by Toyota.
  • B. Cars were made by Toyota.
  • 2. With stative verbs, the more indefinite the object in the by-phrase, the better
  • Adele’s song, Rolling in the Deep has been heard by everyone who listens to
  • the radio.
  • B. Adele’s song, Rolling in the Deep has been heard by Mary.
  • 3. The more the verb denotes a physical action, the better
  • A. The boy was given an award by the principal.
  • B. The award was desired by the boy.

Meaning difference between

Active and Passive

Everyone in the room speaks two languages. vs. Two languages are spoken by everyone in the room.

Few people read many books. Vs. Many books are read by few people.

Moles dig tunnels. Vs. Tunnels are dug by moles.


Be versus Get

Get-passive, like Japanese passive, tends to be used adversely.

Get slapped, hit, whacked, trapped, snatched, punished, etc.

Get-passive tends to be used with verbs semantically related to:

Physical assault – get hit

Hindrance – get trapped

Transference – get snatched

Emotional or Mental strain – get punished

Get has lack of expressed agent and cannot replace be-passives with non-dynamic verbs.

This bed had not been slept in. vs. This bed had not got slept in.

Get is usually associated with verbs that emphasize actions or processes and are more likely to occur with adverbs of frequency.

The man continually got wiped out.


Middle Voice

  • The middle voice allows the subject of a sentence to be
  • the recipient of the action, but the morphology of the
  • verb to be in the active voice.

A. Her high C shattered the glass. (active voice)

B. The glass was shattered by her high C. (passive voice)

C. The glass shattered. (middle voice)

  • English allows a representation of processes in terms of actions (active or passive voice) and happenings (middle voice).
  • English uses ergative, or change-of-state verbs
  • (shatter) to express spontaneous occurrences.
  • Ergative verbs can occur in the passive, active, or
  • middle voice.

Use (1/4)

The function of the passive is to defocus the agent.

The passive is most frequently used when it is not known or

not important to know exactly who performs an action.

Rice is grown in India.

Our house was built in 1980.

This olive oil was imported from Crete.

Sometimes, we use the passive with the agent because we

want to focus attention on the subject of the sentence.

This rug was made by my aunt.

That rug was made by my mother.

The focus of attention is on two rugs.


Use (2/4)

The passive is used when the agent is not to be

mentioned because:

  • It is redundant or easy to supply –

Over 2,000 different varieties of potato are grown in Peru.

  • It is unknown –

Julie’s car was stolen yesterday.

  • The speaker/writer is being tactful –

Apparently, we were given the wrong information.

  • The speaker is being evasive –

A huge error was made on the report, so our group

received a poor letter grade.


Use (3/4)

The passive is used when the nonagent (recipient of the action) is:

- more closely related than the agent to the theme of the text

e.g. scientific writing

- a participant in the immediately preceding sentence

Lorenzo arrived in Paris as a down-at-heel political refugee without friends or money; luckily for him, France at that

time was ruled by an Italian . . .

** The passive is used more in some genres than others. Passives are more frequent with scientific or journalistic writing than it is with fictional and conversational English.


Use (4/4)

Include the agent when:

It is new information –

Sam’s house was robbed by the man who escaped

from prison.

It is nonhuman –

The pool is cleaned throughout the day by the vacuum.

It is a well-known personage and should be included as propositional information –

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was written by

Mark Twain.



With a partner, discuss why the agent is or is

not included in the following sentences.

  • My shoes were made in Italy.
  • The Mona Lisa was painted by de Vinci.
  • While Marty was walking down the street, her purse was snatched by a young man.
  • The bank was robbed yesterday.
  • Margaret was given some bad advice about selecting courses.
common difficulties
Common Difficulties

1. When to use the passive voice

2. Adjective vs. Passive

3. Middle Voice

when to use the passive voice 1 2
When to use the Passive Voice (1/2)
  • Most languages in the world use different voices to put different constitutes in initial position.

In the Bantu languages, the passive voices are used if the agent is inanimate and the receiver is animate.

e.g.) The election bothered Nancy.

Nancy was bothered by the election. (o)


When to use the Passive Voice (1/2)

B. The subject is negatively affected by the action portrayed in the verb(Adversative passive voice).

Japanese students may puzzle over when to use the passive voice in English.

e.g.) John gaameni fur-are-ta.

John (topic marker) rain by fall.

John was fallen by rain.

adjective vs passives 1 2
Adjective vs. Passives (1/2)
  • A past participle can function as a passive verb and adjective in a sentence.
  • How to distinguish the passive participle from the adjective at a sentence-level?
  • The use of by with a noun phrase to mark an gent in the passive voice.

e.g.) The beans were refried by someone (passive)


adjective vs passives 2 2
Adjective vs. Passives (2/2)
  • Not all adjectival and passive participle pairs are pronounced the same.

The suspect was alleged to have taken the money. /əlédƷd/

The alleged thief… /əlédƷid/

middle voice 1 3
Middle Voice (1/3)
  • English allows a representation of processes in terms of actions and happening. In other words, English uses active, passive, and middle voices in order to express processes.
  • English uses ergative, or change-of-state verbs to express spontaneous occurrences.
middle voice 3 3
Middle Voice (3/3)

The middle voice can also be expressed by intransitive verbs that take the focus of the process as subjects. However, they do not occur in the passive voice since intransitive verbs have no transitive counterparts.

difficulties related to middle voice 1 3
Difficulties related toMiddle Voice (1/3)
  • When the “change-of-state” sentences are preferred to passive sentences?
  • When the focus is on the change of state and the agent is irrelevant.

The bank closes at 5. p.m.

  • When the writer’s or speaker’s objective is to create an aura of mystery of suspense. That is, when things seem to be happening without the intervention of an agent.

We were sitting quietly after dinner, when suddenly the door opened.

  • When the subject is something so fragile or unstable that it can break, change, dissolve, and so on without any apparent intervention on the part of any agent.

Left hanging on the fence, the red balloon suddenly burst.

difficulties related to middle voice 2 3
Difficulties related toMiddle Voice (2/3)

4) When it is natural to expect to occur (based on physical, social, or psychological laws).

The ice on the pond melted earlier than usual.

5)When there are so many possible causes for a change of state that it would be misleading to imply a single agent.

Prices increased due to a variety factors.

difficulties related to middle voice 3 3
Difficulties related toMiddle Voice (3/3)

B. Which verbs are ergative?

Many of the old buildings in the center of town have recently demolished. (X)

C. Intransitive verbs cannot occur in the passive voice.

The accident was happened last night.

D. Wrong instruction: Some Chinese students have been taught that sentences with grammatical subjects that are not the agent require the passive in English. Students will need to learn about the middle voice.

demonstration 1
Demonstration #1

Intermediate ESL Students

Overboard (1987)

Confrontation between Joanna and Dean

demonstration 2
Demonstration #2

Intermediate ESL Students

The City of Placentia –

Then and Now

what has been changed
What has been changed?



[Adapted from (Pearse, 1981)]

what has been changed1
What has been changed?



[Adapted from (Pearse, 1981)]

what has been changed2
What has been changed?



[Adapted from (Pearse, 1981)]

what has been changed3
What has been changed?



[Adapted from (Pearse, 1981)]

suggested activities

1) Presentation Phase for Low Intermediate Students

Discuss and elicit various jobs that are done at a hotel.

“Are/Is the … every day?”“Yes, the … is/are … everyday.”

Suggested Activities
  • a. make beds
  • b. clean rooms
  • c. check reservations
  • d. serve dinner
  • e. prepare breakfast
  • f. serve drinks
  • g. wash dishes
  • h. prepare bills

2) Practice Phase for Intermediate Students

Give students a list of well-known products and have them discuss where they are made/produced/created/sold/etc. This is great introductory activity because the agent is less important or unnecessary in these sentences. This can also be used to teach the past passive. (e.g. "Where are Nike shoes made?" "Where is vodka produced?" “Where was Facebook invented?”) [Adapted from ]vodka, Guinness, tequila, sake, BMW cars, Honda cars, your t-shirt, baklava, french fries, shish kababs, Microsoft, Facebook, etc.

suggested activities1
Suggested Activities

3) Practice Phase for Intermediate Students

Who discovered/wrote/invented/directed/etc. these things? (You may want to create a third column with verb choices to help match the items.)

Put students into groups and have them discuss each of the items below and match them with the inventor/director/writer/etc.

(e.g. “Penicillin was discovered by Alexander Flemming.”)

[Adapted from ]

suggested activities2
Suggested Activities

4) Production Phase for High-Intermediate/Advanced Students

Show students a few pages of the newspaper. Show them that not only is the passive voice used in the headlines, but throughout the stories as well because the event itself is commonly more important than the actors. Then, have students break into pairs or small groups and invent a crime or a story that might appear in a newspaper. When they come up with the main details, they can write the article or do a newscast of what happened.

5) Production Phase for High Intermediate Students

Discuss your childhood: (Although these questions are written in the passive voice [implying that maybe your parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles/etc. could have done these things], students can answer in various forms. e.g. “My dad let me stay up late, but my mom sent me to bed early.”) [Adapted from ]

  • Were you allowed to watch TV in bed?
  • Were you sent to bed early?
  • Were you allowed to eat sweets before meals?
  • Were you given an allowance?
  • Were you allowed to choose your own clothes?
  • Were you told to do your homework before watching TV?
  • Were you allowed to play in the streets with your friends?
  • Were you asked to help clean the house or cook?
suggested activities3
Suggested Activities

6) Practice Phase for Intermediate Students

Have students compare what jobs are usually done in their countries by men and women. Students fill out the worksheet individually. Then they must find someone in the room from a different country, compare answers, and report back to the class. (e.g. "Small children are usually taught by women.”“Houses are usually built by men.")

[Adapted from ]