English Grammar Step by Step
In order to form a passive sentence, we must bear in mind
—The direct object of the active becomes the subject of
—Then, we add the verb be + the past participle of
the active verb.
—When we have a direct object and an indirect object in
the active, both of them can be the subject of a passive
sentence, but the indirect object is usually preferred
as the subject of a passive sentence. If we wish to give
emphasis to the thing (DO) rather than the person (IO),
we make the direct object the subject of the passive
Somebody gave her (indirect object) an ice lolly
(direct object). (active)
Somebody gave an ice lolly to her. (active)
She was given an ice lolly. (passive→indirect object)
An ice lolly was given to her. (passive→direct object)
My mother has bought me a cardigan. (active)
My mother has bought a cardigan for me. (active)
I have been bought a cardigan. (passive→indirect object)
A cardigan has been bought for me. (passive→direct object)
—If the information given by the subject of the active is
important, it must be mentioned in the passive by using
by + the subject of the active. This is called ‘the
agent’. An active sentence like Someone stole my car
becomes My car was stolen in the passive. We cannot say
My car was stolen by someone because ‘someone’ does not
provide any useful information. Compare the following
example with the one just seen: Peter stole my car→My
car was stolen by Peter. In this case, the agent is
necessary because if we remove it, we omit some
important information. A sentence such as The police
arrested the thief becomes The thief was arrested in
the passive, as there is no need to mention the agent
here, since it is already implied by the context that
the job of the police is to do things of this sort.
Change the following sentences from the active voice to the
1 Example: (simple present)
The window cleaner cleans these windows once a week. (active)
These windows are cleaned once a week. (passive)
a We never use this television set.
b They make furniture here.
c People call him ‘Mr Efficient’.
d They teach French and German here.
e They pay us very badly.
2 Example: (simple past)
Her sergeant wounded her with a knife last night. (active)
She was wounded by her sergeant with a knife last night.
a Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492.
b They offered me a rise.
c The police arrested him for murder.
d They cancelled the meeting owing to unavoidable circumstances.
e They swore the president in yesterday.
3 Example: (present continuous)
He is washing my car. (active)
My car is being washed. (passive)
a Nobody is doing anything about it.
b Are you offering me a bonus?
c Are they renting the house now?
d They are still holding the meeting.
e They’re still discussing the same topic.
4 Example: (past continuous)
Somebody was robbing the bank when the alarm went off. (active)
The bank was being robbed when the alarm went off. (passive)
a They were interrogating him then.
b They were installing a burglar alarm in the house when he came
c A tiger was chasing us when they saw us.
d We noticed that someone was following us.
e Nobody was feeding the bears when we got there.
5 Examples: (infinitives)
They’ll lend us THE MONEY WE NEED. (active)
We’ll be lent the money we need. (passive)
THE MONEY WE NEED will be lent TO us. (passive)
They’re going to give her A BOX OF CHOCOLATES. (active)
She’s going to be given a box of chocolates. (passive)
A BOX OF CHOCOLATES is going to be given TO her. (passive)
You should recast your speech in more formal language. (active)
Your speech should be recast in more formal language. (passive)
a If you behave well, I’ll buy you a cornet.
b We ought to build the dog a kennel.
c They won’t pay you tomorrow.
d We’re going to need a lot of help.
e We can’t carry out our threat.
6 Examples: (perfect infinitives)
They can’t have hijacked the aeroplane. (active)
The aeroplane can’t have been hijacked. (passive)
a They would have signed the contract if you hadn’t put your foot
in it. (Leave the if-clause unchanged.)
b They must have redecorated their house.
c In two months’ time, this contagious disease will have affected
all the population in the town.
d The town council would have contracted out the job of cleaning
the streets to this firm if they were more efficient.
e Nobody can have kidnapped her.
7 Examples: (perfect tenses)
Nobody has seen her for the last two weeks. (active)
She has not been seen for the last two weeks. (passive)
a They still haven’t finished the report.
b When we went there, they had already sold the house.
c They have overlaid the walls of our house with a synthetic
fibre against damp.
d Later on, I realised that somebody had eaten my ice-cream cones
e Somebody has torn the buttons of my jacket off.
8 Revision exercise.
a They used to cut this fabric by hand, but now they use a
b They showed me the door.
c I’d have opened the door if I had had the key.
d The police have trapped two of the murderers so far.
e My wife gives me a kiss every single morning.
f Did Jane Green win the tournament?
g Many people would not have contracted AIDS if they had been
h I’m afraid we’ll have to put off the programme on account
of circumstances beyond our control.
i Somebody had torn some pages out of her diary.
j A rabid dog attacked my father when he was striding across
k The way he smelled put me off.
l Did he promise her the moon?
m They sell fish and chips here.
n Last month someone punctured three of my tyres.
o She’ll set her fierce dog on anyone that enters the place.
p Somebody had slashed two of my tyres.
q A ferocious beast must have attacked and killed her.
r ‘Who discovered penicillin?’
‘Alexander Fleming discovered it in 1928.’
s They are pulling down the old cinema.
t Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice.
u The enemy was invading the island when our air force arrived.
v The enemy’s commando throttled the sentry and blew up the
w We repair dishwashers.
x Somebody stabbed her when she was sleeping.
y The local authority should knock this building down.
z They haven’t invited Amy to their party.
9 Examples: (infinitives and gerunds)
We don’t want you to invite Amy. (active)
We don’t want Amy to be invited. (passive)
I would like you to send me A COPY OF THE CONTRACT. (active)
I would like to be sent a copy of the contract. (passive;
the subject of the sentence and the indirect object are
the same (I-me), so the indirect object is omitted.)
I would like A COPY OF THE CONTRACT to be sent TO me. (passive→
I don’t mind people sending her FLOWERS. (active)
I don’t mind her being sent flowers. (passive→indirect object)
I don’t mind FLOWERS being sent TO her. (passive→direct object)
I don’t mind people sending me FLOWERS. (active)
I don’t mind being sent flowers. (passive; the subject of
the sentence and the indirect object are the same (I-me),
so the indirect object is dropped.)
I don’t mind FLOWERS being sent TO me. (passive→direct object)
a I can’t stand people laughing at me.
b I don’t like my pupils to give me gifts.
c I asked them to admit me to the club.
d I’d prefer them not to phone me.
e They dislike people shouting at them.
He saw an ice-cream van park in front of his house. (active)
An ice-cream van was seen TO park in front of his house.
Some verbs are followed by an object + an infinitive without
to, but take a to-infinitive in the passive. For more details,
see unit 23, section 5.
a They made him work in shifts.
b He heard her say that her van was in its last legs.
c Everyone watched him strike her with a stick.
d They made us confess everything.
e We saw Brenda dance to rock and roll music.
People say (that) he is a raver. (active)
He is said to be a raver. (passive)
It is said (that) he is a raver. (passive)
People say (that) he was a raver. (active)
He is said to have been a raver. (passive)
It is said (that) he was a raver. (passive)
The two passive constructions seen above are synonymous
and only possible with verbs such as say, think,
believe, consider, find, know, report.
a They claimed he stole/had stolen her purse.
b They expect that the match will take place on Friday evening.
c People think she is touched.
d They alleged that he robbed/had robbed the jeweller’s.
e People consider that he was a corrupt politician.
She suggested breaking into the house by night. (active)
She suggested that they should break into the house by
She suggested that the house should be broken into by
They advised us to buy a new tractor. (active)
They advised buying a new tractor. (active)
They advised that we should buy a new tractor. (active)
They advised that a new tractor should be bought. (passive)
We were advised to buy a new tractor. (passive)
They decided not to lend him ANY MONEY. (active)
They decided that they should not lend him ANY MONEY. (active)
They decided that he should not be lent any money. (passive)
They decided that NO MONEY should be lent TO him. (passive)
After some verbs we can have two structures in the active: a
gerund or an infinitive and a should-construction; the latter
being more formal. In the passive, the should-construction is
required, unless we have a verb such as ‘advise’, in which
case the indirect object may be the subject of a passive
sentence; thus, we can avoid using ‘should’. For further
information, see unit 22, section 36. Despite what we have
seen here, there are other options, but they are usually less
common than the ones used in this section. For these options,
see the next section.
a She urged her boss to expand the business.
b He ordered his men to take up their positions right then.
c The authorities recommended not making any fires in the area.
d The Prime Minister insisted upon reducing the public
e We suggested employing another accountant.
People have demanded that the government should create more
It has been demanded that more jobs should be created.
They decided not to lend him any money. (active)
They decided that they should not lend him ANY MONEY. (active)
It was decided not to lend him any money. (passive)
It was decided that he should not be lent any money/that NO
MONEY should be lent TO him. (passive)
People suggested not demolishing the building.
People suggested that no-one should demolish the building.
It was suggested not demolishing the building. (passive)
It was suggested that the building should not be
We can use it as a preparatory subject of a that-clause,
an infinitive construction or a gerund phrase to make a
passive sentence, as has just been seen above. Nonetheless,
you must take into account that this is only possible with
some verbs, such as ‘demand’, ‘decide’ and ‘suggest’.
Compare this section with the previous one.
a They have recommended not to use dynamite in the mine.
b They have recommended that nobody should consume this trademark
of cheese, as they say that some batches are off.
c One may well think that one should put a traitor to death.
d They have announced that they are going to cut down
e People are demanding to know the whys and wherefores of
I had/got my fountain pen pinched. (= Somebody pinched my
We had/got our van fixed yesterday. (= A mechanic fixed our
We use have/get something done to denote that somebody
does something to us or for us. Get is colloquial, and
may indicate some sort of difficulty or effort, or the
idea of having something to do. For additional information,
see units 6 (part 4, sections 5 and 6) and 23 (section 10).
a A translator is going to translate this letter into English for
b This tap is dripping. We’ll have to employ a plumber to mend
c Somebody bruised my eye in a fight.
d Someone has broken my spectacles.
e A hairdresser is doing her hair.
15 Revision exercise.
a They are taking down our former house.
b I do not object to your promoting me, but I do object to
your paying me so little.
c They thought he was overseas.
d The wind had torn the flag away from its pole.
e ‘Who signed this document?’
‘My brother signed it.’
f They have promised us the earth.
g He proposed our giving them a pay rise.
h I’d love you to take me to the opera tonight.
i She’s not responsible for telling the enemy our intentions.
j He allows his students to use dictionaries in his
k Somebody helped her to exterminate the plague of rats.
l The government has decided to spend more money on education.
m The murderer had ripped the phone wires out so that no-one
could ring the police.
n Her boss sent her to London last month.
o I’m sick and tired of people taking me photographs.
p A mechanic is going to check my brakes.
q We saw and killed the enemy when they were sliding into
r We hate people ordering us around.
s The painter is painting my bungalow.
t People believe that he has not gone out with a woman in his
u Simon Brown knocked Tony Taylor down in the second round.
v We saw her leave the house hurriedly.
w We saw her speaking to Mrs Green.
x Peter Jones holds the world record for javeling throwing.
y We’ll have to invest more money in the project.
z The strangler strangled her with a scarf.
Not all transitive verbs take the passive voice:
She has a car (active)
*A car is had. (This passive construction is not correct.)
Reflexive and reciprocal pronouns cannot be the subject
of a passive sentence:
I sent myself a bunch of flowers. (active)
*Myself was sent a bunch of flowers. (This passive structure
We kissed each other. (active)
*Each other was kissed. (This passive sentence
is not possible.)
Deserve, need, require and want plus a gerund have a
passive meaning: This plant needs watering/to be
watered. For more details, see unit 23, section 18.
This passive construction is impossible in some languages;
for instance, in Catalan and Castilian.
Occasionally, another preposition can occur in place of by:
What she said amazed me.
I was amazed by/at what she said.
My heart filled with sadness.
Sadness filled my heart
My heart was filled with sadness. (not by sadness)
Note the word order.
Swear in is normally used in the passive.
Infinitives continuous are avoided in the passive:
They can’t be cleaning the swimming-pool.
*The swimming-pool can’t be being cleaned. (This structure
is not generally used so as to avoid the combination ‘be
Perfect continuous infinitives are avoided in the passive:
They ought to have been fixing my car.
*My car ought to have been being fixed. (This construction
is not normally used so as to avoid using ‘been being’.)
In order to avoid saying ‘been being’, we do not usually
put perfect continuous tenses into the passive voice:
They have been attacking us for the last two days.
*We have been being attacked for the last two days. (Avoid
This object is singular.
The perfect infinitive refers to a previous action.
Another instance: The authorities reported (a later
action) that he was murdered/had been murdered (an
earlier action) with a knife.→He was reported
to have been murdered with a knife/It was reported
that he was murdered/had been murdered with a knife.
Compare this with the following:
People said he was handsome.
He was said to be handsome. (‘to have been handsome’
would imply that he was not handsome any more or that
he was already dead.)
It was said (that) he was handsome.
The subjunctive is also possible with these verbs; the only
thing you have to do is to leave out the word should: She
suggested that the house be broken into. For the employment
of the subjunctive, see unit 22, sections 35, 36 and 37.
See unit 23, section 7.
This structure indicates that he told his men direct; the one
with should, that he told somebody else, which is why it would
be much better not to use the should-construction here.
Note the position of the agent:
His employer decided not to lend him any money.
His employer decided that he should not lend him any money.
It was decided by his employer not to lend him any money.
It was decided by his employer that he should not be
lent any money/that no money should be lent to him.
Notice the position of the agent:
The authorities suggested not demolishing the building.
The authorities suggested that no-one should demolished
It was suggested by the authorities not demolishing
It was suggested by the authorities that the building
should not be demolished.
However, it is possible to say the following as well:
My fountain pen was pinched.
Our van was fixed yesterday.
See unit 23, section 7.
Author: Miquel Molina i Diez
Pages: 1 and the key
1 Negative and interrogative sentences (Page 2 and the key)
2 Short answers (Page 2 and the key)
3 Question tags (Page 2 and the key)
4 Questions and exclamations (Page 2 and the key)
5 So, neither, nor, either (the key)
6 Be, used to, would, be/get/become used to, dare, have, get, become, grow, go, turn, fall and feel (Page 2 and the key)
7 Verb tenses: forms (Page 2 and the key)
8 Irregular verbs
9 Verb tenses: uses (Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5 and the key)
10 Personal pronouns, possessives and reflexive pronouns (Page 2 and the key)
11 The genitive case (the key)
12 Singular and plural nouns (Page 2 and the key)
13 Gender (the key)
14 A, an, some, any, no, not, none, each, every and the; compounds of some, any, no and every (Page 2, Page 3 and the key)
15 Neither, not...either, none, not...any, both and all (the key)
16 A few, few, a lot, lots, a little, little, many, much, no and plenty (the key)
17 Enough, too, so and such (the key)
18 Comparative and superlative sentences (Page 2 and the key)
19 Adjective order (the key)
20 Relative clauses (Page 2 and the key)
21 Do and make (the key)
22 Modal verbs (Page 2, Page 3 and the key)
23 Infinitives, gerunds and present participles (Page 2 and the key)
24 Conditional sentences (Page 2 and the key)
25 Passive sentences (the key)
26 Reported speech (Page 2 and the key)
27 Purpose (the key)
28 Word order (the key)
29 Inversion (the key)
30 Connectors (Page 2 and the key)
31 Prepositions (Page 2, Page 3 and the key)
32 Phrasal verbs (the key)