Passives

Passives

We make the passive using ‘be’ – in a suitable tense – and the past participle (‘done’, ‘played’ etc.). We use the passive:

1) … when we don’t know, or we are not interested in, who does an action.

  • My car was stolen yesterday.
    We don’t know who stole the car.
  • A lot of wine is produced in France.
    It’s not important who produces the wine.

2) … when the main topic of the sentence isn’t who did the action.

  • Television was invented in the 1920s by John Logie Baird.
    The main topic here is television – we aren’t particularly interested in ‘who’.
  • Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
    In English we tend to put the most important thing at the start of the sentence.

3) … more in written English than in spoken English.

  • War and Peace was written by Tolstoy.
    You often see the passive in textbooks.
  • The mixture is heated to 500˚C.
    Scientific texts especially use the passive.

Tenses

The passive can be used with all tenses – the form of ‘be’ changes.

  • What is tiramisu made from?. Present Simple.
  • The hall is being painted this week so our class will be in a different room. Present Continuous.
  • Oranges have been grown here for centuries. Present Perfect.
  • When he got home he found that his flat had been burgled. Past Perfect.
  • The work won’t be finished until next week. Future Simple.

Modal verbs also use ‘be’ and the past participle.

  • Answers must be written in pencil.
  • Competition entrants might be chosen to appear on TV.

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