passive voice n.
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Passive Voice. The passive: form The active voice shows what someone or something does. The passive voice shows what happens to something. We make the passive with a form of the verb + past participle. Passive form cont -. 2. The passive: use. We use the passive as follows:

I am the owner, or an agent authorized to act on behalf of the owner, of the copyrighted work described.
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passive voice

Passive Voice

The passive: form

The active voice shows what someone or something does. The passive voice shows what happens to something. We make the passive with a form of the verb + past participle.

2 the passive use
2. The passive: use

We use the passive as follows:

  • When the object is more important than the subject and the agent is either obvious, not important, or unknown.

All applications are processed on the spot. (It is obvious that it is the library staff who process the cards.)

  • In formal writing to make it less personal:

You are advised to return the application form within three days. (Impersonal)

The active voice is more direct and personal.


I advise you to return the application form within three days.

  • When we describe a process:

The union is run by seven executive officers who are elected by students.

We do not generally use the passive for natural (or biological) process, where people are not involved (e.g. the carbon cycle):

Plants take up carbon dioxide from the air as part of photosynthesis.

  • Spoken and written:

The passive is used more in writing and formal speech.


using by and with: The person or organization that does the action is called “the agent”. If we want to say who does the action then we use by:

Hundreds of houses were built last year.

Hundreds of houses were built by the Government last year.

A lot of stones were thrown.

A lot of stones were thrown by angry football fans.

  • The thing that is used to perform an action is called “instrument”. If we want to include this we use with.

The windows were broken with a baseball bat.

  • Passive without an agent phrase.

It is not always necessary to mention the agent. There are several reasons for this:

-Agent not known: Brenda’s motorbike was stolen last night.

If we knew who had stolen it, we would mention the name of the person. But we don’t know and the agent is not mentioned.

-Agent is obvious: One protester was arrested.

It is not necessary to add the words “by the police”, because we know that it is always the police who do this. However, it is possible to add these words if we want to.


-Agent unimportant: A lot of English grammar books are sold every year.

Exactly who sells the books is not important. If it was important we could use by and the names of the people or shops who sell the books.

  • Reporting with passive verbs

With reporting verbs and verbs of thinking or feeling we can use:

  • It + passive verb + that (e.g. agree, announce, argue, believe, claim, decide, disclose, expect, feel, hope, know, predict, recognize, report, say, suggest, think, understand).

It was felt that the facilities were in need or renovation.


Subject + passive verb + to-infinitive (e.g. ask, believe, consider, estimate, expect, feel, know, mean, report, say, see, suppose, think, understand):

Our sport facilities are said to be among the best in the country. (=people say our sports facilities are among the best in the country)

This building is believed to be the oldest in the town.

Vince (2008) also points out that this type of passive is also called “hearsay reporting.” The report can refer to the present, or past, or a time before the time of reporting.


Present verb, present reference

We use a present reporting verb and refer to a state or action in the present:

passive present infinitive

The patient is said to be as well as can be expected.

(That’s what people say now about the present situation.)

Present verb, past reference

We use a present reporting verb and refer to a state or action in the past:

passive past infinitive

The robbers are thought to have stolen more than $3 million.

(That’s what people say now about the past situation.)


Past verb, reference to time of reporting

We use a past reporting verb and refer to a state or action at a time of report was made:

past simple passive present infinitive

Last week, the Prime Minister was said to be undecided.

(That’s what people said then about the situation then.)

Past verb, reference before time of reporting

We use a past reporting verb and refer to a state or action at the time before the report was made:

passive simple passive past infinitive

Mr. Smith was believed to have taken the car by mistake.


(That’s what people said then about something that had happened earlier.)

  • Continuous forms

Continuous infinitive forms are also possible.

The escaped men are believed to have been wearing prison clothes.

The injured man is thought to have been trying to climb the cliff.

  • Passive infinitives

Hearsay report expressions can also be followed by passive infinitives:


There are number of diseases which are known to be caused by poor hygiene.

The men are said to have been recaptured.

At the time of the wreck, the diamonds were thought to have been lost.

  • Passive participles

These can be used with report verbs like appreciate, deny, enjoy, remember etc.

I appreciated being met at the airport.

Mr. Archwood denied having been convicted of any crime.


4. Have something done

To show that someone performs a paid service for us we use have +object + past participle:

You’ll need to have your photograph taken. (=someone else will take your photograph)

In formal English get + past participle can be used in the same way:

I got my photograph taken yesterday.

This kind of construction is called pseudo-passive.

Get-pseudo-passives and have pseudo-passive can often both be used to express causative and non-causative meanings. The have-passive is more formal than the get-passive:

5 need ing
5. Need +-ing

We can sometimes use need+ -ing as an alternative to the passive to say that it is necessary to do something without stating who will do it.

Some facilities need improving around the campus. (=it is necessary to improve some facilities.)

In addition, Carter & McCarthy (2006) point out that beside “need”, there are some more verbs: deserve, require, want can be followed by an active-ing form structure although the grammatical subject is the affected participant of the process denoted by the verb, thus creating a meaning similar to a passive voice structure:


The picture’s dark, very dark. It needs restoring.

(similar to: it should be restored.)

Your jacket wants cleaning.

(similar to: it should be cleaned.)

Here are more rules about passive you should know.

Indirect objects as Passive subject

stative passive verbs preposition
Stative passive Verbs + Preposition

be accustomed to be engaged to be opposed to

be acquainted to be equipped with be pleased with

be addicted to be excited about be prepared for

be annoyed with, by be exhausted from be protected from

be associated with be exposed to be provided with

be bored with, by be filled with be qualified for

be clustered with be finished with be related to

be composed of be frightened of, by be remembered for

be concerned about be gone from be satisfied with

be coordinated with be interested in be scared of, by

be covered with be involved in be terrified of, by

stative passive verbs preposition cont
Stative passive Verbs + Preposition cont-

be crowded with be known for be tired of, from

be dedicated to be limited to be worried about

be devoted to be located in

be disappointed in, with be made of

be discriminated against be married to

be divorced from

be done with

be dressed in