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
end of the clause :
This tree was planted by my grandfather.
Form of the passive : be + past participle
: Mary helped
: The boy
was helped by Mary.
In the passive, the object of an active verb becomes
the subject of the passive verb: “the boy” in the
active verb becomes the subject of the passive verb.
The Passive Form : modal + be + past participle
to the picnic.
(b) The window
to respect their elders.
(e) This book
to the library before Friday?
(f) This letter
before June 1st.
about our change in plans.
about the meeting.
The Past-Passive Form :
modal + have been + past participle
have been sent
have been built
over 200 years ago.
have been invited
to the party.
: We keep the butter here.
: The butter is kept here.
: They broke the window.
: The window was broken.
: People have seen wolves in the
: Wolves have been seen in the
The passive of continuous tenses requires the
present continuous forms of to be, which are not
otherwise much used:
: They are repairing the bridge.
: The bridge is being repaired.
: They were carrying the injured
player off the field.
: The injured player was being carried
off the field.
Is being kept
Was being kept
Has been kept
Had been kept
Will be kept
Would be kept
Would have kept
Would have been kept
To be kept
To have kept
To have been kept
Have been kept
When it is necessary to mention the doer of the action as it
is obvious who he is/was/will be:
The rubbish hasn’t been collected.
Your hand will be X-rayed.
The streets are swept everyday.
When we don’t know, or don’t know exactly, or have
forgotten who did the action:
The minister was murdered.
You’ll be met at the station.
My car has been moved!
I’ve been told that . . .
When the subject of the active verb would be ‘people’
He is suspected of receiving stolen goods. (People suspect
They are supposed to be living in New York. (People
suppose that they are living…)
When the subject of the active sentence would be the indefinite pronoun one:
One seed this sort of advertisement everywhere would usually be expressed:
This sort of advertisement is seen everywhere.
In colloquial speech we can use the indefinite pronoun you and an active verb:
You see this sort of advertisement everywhere.
But more formal English requires one + active verb or the more usual passive form.
When we are more interested in the action than 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)
Though in more informal 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 by
avoiding a change of subject:
When he arrived home a detective arrested him.
Would be better expressed:
When he arrived home he was arrested (by a
When their mother was ill neighbors looked after
Would be better expressed:
When their mother was ill the children were
looked after by neighbors.
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/will have to be reduced.
The active will, of course, be used for agreeable
I/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
of opening his letters, may say tactfully:
This letter has been opened! Instead of You’ve
been opened this letter!
Understanding and Using English Grammar (Betty
A practical English Grammar (A.J. Thomson and