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Passive (1) (is done/was done)

A. Study this example:

This house was built in 1930.

‘Was built’ is passive.

Compare active and passive:

Somebodybuilt this house (object) in 1930. (active)

This house (subject) was built in 1930. (passive)

We use an active verb to say what the subject does:

e.g. My grandfather was a builder. He built this house in 1930.

It’s a big company. It employs two hundred people.

We use a passive verb to say what happens to the subject:

e.g. This house is quite old. It was built in 1930.

Two hundred people are employed by the company.


B. When we use the passive, who or what causes the action is often unknown or unimportant:

e.g. A lot of money was stolen in the robbery. (somebody stole it but we don't know who)

Is this room cleaned every day? (does somebody clean it?-it’s not important who)

If we want to say who does or what causes the action, we use by...

e.g. This house was built by my grandfather.

Two hundred people are employed by the company.

C. The passive is be (is/ was/ have been etc.) + the past participle (done/cleaned/seen etc.):

(be) done (be) cleaned (be) seen (be) damaged (be) built etc.

For irregular past participles (done/known/seen etc.), see Appendix 1.

Study the active and passive forms of the present simple and past simple:

Present simple

active: clean(s)/see(s) etc.

e.g. Somebody cleans this every day.

passive: am/is/are cleaned/seen etc.

e.g. This room is cleaned every day.

Many accidents are caused by careless driving.

I’m not often invited to parties.

How is this word pronounced?

Present simple

active: cleaned/saw etc.

e.g. Somebody cleaned this room yesterday.

passive: was/were cleaned/seen etc.

e.g. This room was cleaned yesterday.

We were woken up by a loud noise during the night.

‘Did you go to the party?’ – ‘No, I wasn't invited.’

How much money was stolen?


Passive (2) (be/been/being done)

Study the following active and passive forms:

A. Infinitive

active: (to) do/clean/see etc. Somebody will clean the room later.

passive: (to) be done/cleaned/seen etc. The room will be clean later.

e.g. The situation is serious. Something must be done before it's too late.

A mystery is something that can't be explained.

The music was very loud and could be heard from a long way away.

A new supermarket is going to be built next year.

Please go away. I want to be left alone.

B. Perfect infinitive

active: have done/cleaned/seen etc. Somebody should have cleaned the room.

passive: have been done/cleaned/seen etc. The room should have been cleaned.

e.g. I haven’t received the letter yet. It might have been sent to the wrong address.

If you hadn’t left the car unlocked, it wouldn't have been stolen.

There were some problems at first but they seem to have been solved.

C. Present perfect

active: have/has (done) The room looks nice. Somebody has cleaned it.

passive: have/has been (done) The room looks nice. It has been clean.

e.g. Have you heard the news? The President has been shot!

Have you ever been bitten by a dog?

‘Are you going to the party?’ – ‘No, I haven't been invited.’

Past perfect

active: had(done) The room looked nice. Somebody had clean it.

passive: had been (done) The room looked nice. It had been clean.

e.g. The vegetables didn't taste very good. They had been cooked for too long.

The car was three years old but hadn't been used very much.

D. Present continuous

active: am/is/are (do)ing Somebody is cleaning the room at the moment.

passive: am/is/are being (done) The room is being cleaned at the moment.

e.g. There's somebody walking behind us. I think we are being followed.

(in a shop) ‘Can I help you, madam’ ‘'No, thank you. I’m being served.’

Past continuous active: was/were (do)ing Somebody was cleaning the room when I arrived.

passive: was/were being (done) The room was being cleaned when I arrived.

e.g. There was somebody walking behind us. We were being followed.

Passive (3)

A. I was born ...

We say: I was born ... (not 'I am born'):

Past simple

e.g. I was born in Chicago.

Where were you born? (not ‘'where are you born’)

But present simple

How many babies are born every day?

B. Some verbs can have two objects. For example, give:

e.g. We gave the police (object 1) the information.(object 2) (= We gave the

information to the police.)

So it is possible to make two passive sentences:

e.g. The police were given the information. or The information was given to

the police.

Other verbs which can have two objects are: ask offer pay show teach tell

When we use these verbs in the passive, most often we begin with the person:

e.g. I was offered the job but I refused it. (= they offered me the job)

You will be given plenty of time to decide. (= we will give you plenty of time)

Have you been shown the new machine? (= has anybody shown you ...?)

The men were paid L200 to do the work. (= somebody paid the men


C. I don't like being ...

The passive of doing/seeing etc. is being done/being seen etc.


active: I don't like people telling me what to do.

passive: I don5t like being told what to do.

e.g. I remember being given a toy drum on my fifth birthday. (= I remember somebody giving me a toy drum...)

Mr. Miller hates being kept waiting. (= he hates people keeping him waiting)

We managed to climb over the wall without being seen. (= ... without anybody seeing us)

D. Get

Sometimes you can use get instead of be in the passive:

e.g. There was a fight at the party but nobody got hurt. (= nobody was


I don't often get invited to parties. (= I'm not often invited)

I’m surprised Ann didn't get offered the lob. (... Ann wasn't offered

the job)

You can use get to say that something happens to somebody or something, especially if this is unplanned or unexpected:

e.g. Our dog got run over by a car.

You can use get only when things happen or change. For example, you cannot use getin these sentences:

Jill is liked by everybody. (not 'gets liked' - this is not a 'happening')

He was a mystery man. Nothing was known about him. (not 'got known')

We use get mainly in informal spoken English. You can use be in all situations.

We also use get in the following expressions (which are not passive in meaning):

get married, get divorced, get dressed (= put on your clothes) get changed (= change your clothes)

The Infinitive

Verb + to... (decide to do/forget to do etc.)

A. offer, decide, hope, deserve, attempt, promise, agree, plan, aim, afford, manage, threaten, refuse, arrange, learn, forget, fail.

If these verbs are followed by another verb, the structure is usually verb + to ... (infinitive):

e.g. It was late, so we decided to take a taxi home.

Simon was in a difficult situation, so I agreed to lend him some money.

How old were you when you learnt to drive? (or ‘learnt how to drive’)

I waved to Karen but failed to attract her attention.

Note these examples with the negative not to ...:

e.g. We decided not to go out because of the weather.

I promised not to be late.

With many verbs you cannot normally use to... . For example, enjoy/think/suggest:

e.g. I enjoy dancing. (not ‘enjoy to dance'’)

Ian suggested going to the cinema. (not ‘suggested to go’)

Are you thinking of buying a car? (not ‘thinking to buy’)

For verb + ~ing, see Unit 52. For verb + preposition + ~ing, see Unit 61.

B. We also use to... after: seem, appear, tend, pretend, claim:

e.g. They seem to have plenty of money,

I like George but I think he tends to talk too much.

Ann pretended not to see me as she passed me in the street.

There is also a continuous infinitive (to be doing) and a perfect infinitive (to have done):

e.g. I pretended to be reading the newspaper. (= I pretended that I was


You seem to have lost weight. (= it seems that you have lost weight)

C. We say 'decide to do something', 'promise to do something' etc. In the same way, we say 'a decision to do something', 'a promise to do something' etc. (noun + to..).

e.g. I think his decision to give up his Job was stupid.

George has a tendency to talk too much.

D. After dare you can use the infinitive with or without to:

e.g. I wouldn't dare to tell him. or I wouldn't dare tell him.

But after daren't (or dare not), you must use the infinitive without to:

e.g. I daren't tell him what happened. (not ‘I daren't to tell him’)

E. After the following verbs you can use a question word (what/whether/how etc.) + to ...

Ask, decide, know, remember, forget, explain, learn, understand, wonder:

e.g. We asked how to get to the station.

Have you decided where to go for your holidays?

Do you understand what to do?

Also: show/tell/ask/advise/teach somebody what/how/where to do something:

e.g. Can somebody show me how to change the film in this camera?

Ask Jack. He’ll tell you what to do.

Complex Object

Subject + Predicate + Complex Object (Noun/Pronoun + Infinitive)

The combination of a noun in the common case or a pronoun in the objective case and an infinitive used after the predicate forms a complex object. The relation between the noun (pronoun) and the infinitive is that of subject and predicate.

Key examples:

· I saw the boy raise his hand.

· I heard him call my name.

· I want you to know that it doesn’t matter.

The infinitive may be used as a part of a complex object after the following verbs:

1. to hear, to see, to watch, to feel, to let, to make. After these verbs the infinitive has no particle ‘to’.

Patterns. Read and memorize!

I heard him describe his new bedroom suite.

He makes his children go to bed early.

I saw him whitewash the fence.

2. to want, to expect, to know, to suppose, to consider, to believe. After these verbs the particle ‘to’ is used before the infinitive.

Patterns. Read and memorize!

He wanted me to help him choose a new computer.

I consider Bill to be Jack of all trades.

I expected him to paint the walls green.


Complex Subject

Noun/Pronoun + Predicate + Infinitive

The combination of a noun in the common case (or a pronoun in the nominative case) and an infinitive forms a complex subject (1).

The predicate which is usually expressed by a verb in the passive voice is placed between the noun and the infinitive. The relation between the noun and the infinitive is that of subject and predicate.

Note 1: - According to another interpretation the subject is expressed by a noun or pronoun and the infinitive is regarded as a part of the predicate.

Key examples:

· He is said to be a good teacher.

· The boy is known to have passed his exams well.

The predicate in sentences with a complex subject can be expressed by:

1. The same verbs that can be followed by a complex object (that is verbs of sense perception: to see, to hear…, verbs of mental activity: to know, to suppose…; verbs of inducement: to order, to cause, to allow…,). The verbs are used in the passive voice.

Patterns. Read and memorize!

Hewas supposed to bring this book from London. (Predicate is underlined.)

They are heard to have come from the South.

They were seen to go home together. This article is expected to be published next month.

2. verbs of saying: to say, to report, to announce... in the passive voice.

Patterns. Read and memorize!

The building of the new hostel is reported to be over.

He was said to be writing a new play.

3. the verbs to seem, to appear, to prove, to happen, to turn out, to chance in the active voice.

The telephone happened to be out of order.

The young man proved to know everybody.

The house seems to have been damaged by the earthquake.

4. compound predicate: to be likely, to be unlikely, to be sure, to be certain, to be bound.

They are likely to return on Sunday.

Their team is certain to win. / Their team is bound to win.

He is sure to miss this train.

This house is likely to have been built many centuries ago.


Sequence of Tenses

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