passive tense · Uncategorized

The Passive Tense – A Basic Explanation


Examples of passives sentences are the following:

Dinner is served.

The plan was abandoned.

The decision has been made.

Twenty jobs will be cut.

What are passive sentences used for, do you think?

Well, usually, if someone uses a passive sentence it’s because it doesn’t matter who did something. The passive voice makes what you say formal and efficient, and impersonal.

It follows from this that if you want to make your writing lively and personal, you shouldn’t use the passive. Use active sentences so we get to know about the people who do the action.

How to make passives

Passives are made with a form of the verb “to be” followed by a verb in its third form.

So: Be + V3.

The third form of the verb, also indicated by V3, is the same as the past form of the verb if it’s a regular verb (a verb with –ed in the past tense). If it’s not a regular verb, it can have different forms. Example: eat, ate, eaten. Eaten is the third form of the verb. Go, went, gone. Gone is the third form of the verb.

You can use the passive in many different tenses: present, past and future. In this issue of the newsletter we’ll only practice passive sentences that use the present simple.

Here are some more examples.

It’ll be easier for you to understand if I write down the active form of the sentence first.

Active: Father cooks the dinner.

Passive: The dinner is cooked (by Father).

Active: The coach talks about dribbling.

Passive: Dribbling is talked about (by the coach).

Active: The children are holding balloons.

Passive: Balloons are held (by the children).

As you can see in the last example, “hold” is an irregular verb, and the third form is “held,” just like its second or past form.

Irregular Verbs

A student of mine asked: How do you know when an irregular verb’s third form (V3) is the same as the second form (V2)? The answer is: You can’t know. Most irregular verbs have different forms for V2 and V3 but some are the same. The problem with irregular verbs is that there are no rules for them. They’re all quite different, and you need to learn them by heart. Don’t do this by learning the list of irregular verbs (you can find them on the internet or in grammar books). If you practice English a lot and read books you will know them soon enough.

Negative sentences

You can also make negative sentences in the passive voice.

Active: Father doesn’t cook dinner.

Passive: Dinner isn’t cooked (by Father).

Active: The children aren’t holding balloons.

Passive: The balloons aren’t held (by the children).


Passives can be used in questions as well. This is slightly more tricky, mostly because of the word order.

In the action voice of present simple you use “do” or “does.” These need to come at the beginning of your question, or right after the question word. But in the passive you use a form of “to be.” All you need to remember is: if you have more than one verb in the sentence, put the first one at the beginning of the question, then put the subject, and then the other verb(s).

Active: Does Father cook dinner?

Passive: Is dinner cooked (by Father)?

Active: Do the children hold balloons?

Passive: Are the balloons held (by the children)?

I know it can seem a bit confusing at first, but after some practice I’m confident you will get used to passives.

Exercise 1

Turn the active sentences into passive sentences:

1 Active: The manager reads the reports.


2 Active: Does the hotel serve breakfast between 7 and 10?


3 Active: The management doesn’t raise Phil’s salary.


4 Active: The jury gives first prize to Amanda’s book.


5 Active: We extend our hands.


6 Active: Does the author write the movie script?


7 Active: The two friends don’t set up an appointment.


Exercise 2

Turn the passive sentences into active sentences:

1 Passive: The secret is detected by us.


2 Passive: Is the exhibition opened by the Queen?


3 Passive: The programme isn’t broadcast by the Entertainment Channel.


4 Passive: The package is sent by Grandmother.


5 Passive: The car isn’t fixed by the mechanic.


6 Passive: Is her hair cut in a bob by the hairdresser?


Solutions at the bottom of this page. Scroll down.


Exercise 1

1 Passive: The reports are read.

2 Passive: Is breakfast served between 7 and 10?

3 Passive: Phil’s salary isn’t raised.

4 Passive: First prize is given to Amanda’s book.

5 Passive: Our hands are extended.

6 Passive: Is the movie script written?

7 Passive: An appointment isn’t set up.

Exercise 2

1 Active: We detect the secret.

2 Active: Does the Queen open the exhibition?

3 Active: The Entertainment Channel doesn’t broadcast the programme.

4 Active: Grandmother sends the package.

5 Active: The mechanic doesn’t fix the car.

6 Active: Does the hairdresser cut her hair in a bob?

If you’d like to do more exercises, have a look at my website English with a Smile. You can buy extra exercises at a low price, starting from only a few dollars per month, here. Log in first to start using the website.

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