Passive Sentences

Passive voice verbs are used in writing much more often than in speech, and they are used in some types of writing much more often than in others. Passives are used more in journalism (newspapers, magazines) than in fiction (novels, stories), but most journalists and fiction writers use far more active than passive sentences. However, passives are very common in all types of scientific and technical writing. Scientific articles often contain more passive than active sentences. You should not use passive voice verbs unless you have a good reason.

  1. Relationship between active and passive:
  2. The objectof the active verb is the subject of the passive verb (“English” in the example sentences below). Therefore, verbs which cannot be followed by objects (intransitive verbscannot be used in passive voice.

These are some common intransitive verbs: appear, arrive, come, cry, die, go, happen, occur, rain, sleep, stay, walk. These verbs cannot be used in passive voice.

  1. The passive verb always contains a form of the auxiliary verb be. The form of bein the passive verb phrase corresponds to the form of the main verb in the active verb phrase (see the underlined words in the example sentences below). That is, if the active main verb is simple present tense, then a simple present tense form of be is used in the passive verb phrase; if the active main verb is -ING, then the -ING form of be is used in the passive verb phrase; and so on.
  2. The main verb in a passive predicate verb phrase is always the participleform of the verb.
  3. Some examplesof active and passive sentences:

ACTIVE: They speak English.
PASSIVE: English is spoken.

ACTIVE: They spoke English.
PASSIVE: English was spoken.

ACTIVE: They will speak English.
PASSIVE: English will be spoken.

ACTIVE: They are going to speak English.
PASSIVE: English is going to be spoken.

ACTIVE: They are speaking English.
PASSIVE: English is being spoken.

ACTIVE: They were speaking English.
PASSIVE: English was being spoken.

ACTIVE: They have spoken English.
PASSIVE: English has been spoken.

ACTIVE: They had spoken English.
PASSIVE: English had been spoken.

ACTIVE: They will have spoken English.
PASSIVE: English will have been spoken.

  1. Perfect progressiveverb forms are generally used in active voice only. That is, these are good English sentences:

ACTIVE: They have been speaking English.
ACTIVE: They had been speaking English.
ACTIVE: They will have been speaking English.

But sentences like these are rarely used:

PASSIVE: English has been being spoken.
PASSIVE: English had been being spoken.
PASSIVE: English will have been being spoken.

  1. Most passive sentences do not contain an agent; all active sentences contain an agent.
  2. An agentis the subject of the active verb. In the example sentences above, the agent is “they” in all the active sentences; the passive sentences do not contain an agent.
  3. When a passive sentence contains an agent, it is in a prepositional phrase following the verb. For example:

English is spoken by them.

In the following sentences, the noun “teachers” is the agent in both sentences. “Teachers” is also the subject of the active verb, but “exams” is the subject of the passive verb.

ACTIVE: Teachers prepare exams.

PASSIVE: Exams are prepared by teachers.

  1. You should not use passive voice unless you have a good reason.

Here are some good reasons for using passive voice:

  1. Passive voice is often used when the agent(the doer of an action; the subject of an active verb) is obvious, unknown, or unnecessary:

Oranges are grown in California.
Toyotas are made in Japan.
Her purse was stolen.

  1. Passive voice is often used when the agentis known, but the speaker/writer doesn’t want to mention it:

She was given bad advice.
A mistake has been made.

  1. Passive voice is often used when the agentis very general such as people or somebody.

English is spoken here.
The door should be locked.

  1. Passive voice is often used when the speaker/writer wants to emphasize a result:

Several thousand people were killed by the earthquake.

  1. Passive voice is often used when the speaker/writer wants to keep the same subjectfor two or more verbs but this would not be possible if both verbs were the same voice (active or passive).

For example, in a conversation about George, a speaker would probably use sentence a below rather than sentence b (both sentences are correct).

  1. George hadseveral interviews before he was hired by a software company.
    b. George had several interviews before a software company hired him.

Countable & Uncountable nouns (1)

Nouns can be countable or uncountable. When you learn a new noun you should make a note of whether it is countable or uncountable as we use different words with countables and uncountables.
Countable nouns

  • There is a cat in the garden.
  • There are some birds in the trees.

For positive sentences we can use a/an or some (with a plural verb form)

  • There isn’t a dog in the garden.
  • There aren’t any birds in the tree.

For negatives we can use a/an or any (with a plural verb form).

  • Is there an orange on the tree?
  • Are there any chairs in the garden?
  • How many chairs are there?

In questions we use a/anany or how many.

Uncountable nouns

  • There is some milk on the floor.

Uncountable nouns have no plural. The verb form is singular and we use some.

  • Is there any sugar?
  • How much wine is there?

In questions we can use any or how much.

Other expressions of quantity

  • There are a lot of apples on the trees.
  • There is a lot of snow on the road.

A lot of can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns.

  • Bill Gates has much money.

Notice that we don’t usually use ‘much’ or ‘many’ in positive sentences. We use ‘a lot of’.

  • Bill Gates has a lot of money.
  • There’s a lot of beer but there isn’t much wine.
  • There are a lot of carrots but there aren’t many potatoes.

We use not many with countable nouns and not much with uncountable nouns.



Countable & Uncountable nouns (2)

Some words can be both countable and uncountable depending on how they are used.

  • Would you like a chocolate?
  • Would you like some chocolate?

In a box of chocolates, the chocolates are countable and you can take one.
When you have a bar of chocolate the chocolate is uncountable and you can take some.

There are several other nouns that can be both countable and uncountable.

  • Can I have a glass of water, please?
  • There’s some broken glass on the pavement.

Glass’ is one. Many foodstuffs can be countable or uncountable. Think about the difference between ‘an ice cream’ and ‘some ice cream’ and ‘a coffee’ and ‘some coffee

‘few/a few’ and ‘little/a little’

We use few and a few with countable nouns and we use little and a little with uncountable nouns.

  • A few friends are coming round for dinner tonight.
  • We’ve got a little time before our train leaves. Shall we go to a museum?

A few and a little both mean ‘some’. They have a positive meaning.

  • I’ve got very few friends here. I feel really lonely.
  • We’ve got very little time – hurry up or we’ll miss the train.

Few and little both mean ‘almost none’. They have a negative meaning.

Commonly confused words

  • I’d like an information about train times please
  • I’d like some information about train times please.

Although ‘information’ is countable in many languages, it is uncountable in English.

  • Have you had any news from Pete?
  • I haven’t brought much luggage with me.
  • Can you give me some advice please?

As well as information, the following words are all uncountable: newsluggageadvicefurnitureweathertravel.



Articles in English are invariable. That is, they do not change according to the gender or number of the noun they refer to, e.g. the boy, the woman, the children

‘The’ is used:

  1. to refer to something which has already been mentioned.

An elephant and a mouse fell in love.

The mouse loved the elephant’s long trunk,
 the elephant loved the mouse’s tiny nose.

  1. when both the speaker and listener know what is being talked about, even if it has not been mentioned before.

‘Where’s the bathroom?
‘It’s on
 the first floor.’

  1. in sentences or clauses where we define or identify a particular person or object:

The man who wrote this book is famous.
‘Which car did you scratch?’ ‘The red one.
My house is
 the one with a blue door.’

  1. to refer to objects we regard as unique:

the sun, the moon, the world

  1. before superlatives and ordinal numbers:

the highest building, the first page, the last chapter.

  1. with adjectives, to refer to a whole group of people:

the Japanese, the old

  1. with names of geographical areas and oceans:

the Caribbean, the Sahara, the Atlantic

  1. with decades, or groups of years:

she grew up in the seventies

A / AN

Use a’ with nouns starting with a consonant (letters that are not vowels), 
 with nouns starting with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u)


  • Aboy
  • Anapple
  • Acar
  • Anorange
  • Ahouse
  • Anopera

An before an h mute – an hour, an honour.
A before u and eu when they sound like ‘you’: a european, a university, a unit

The indefinite article is used:

  • to refer to something for the first time:
    An elephant
    and a mouse fell in love.
    Would you like
     a drink?
    I’ve finally got
     a good job.
  • to refer to a particular member of a group or class


  • with names of jobs:
    John isa doctor.
    Mary is training to be
     an engineer.
    He wants to be
     a dancer.
  • with nationalities and religions:
    John isan Englishman.
    Kate is
     a Catholic.
  • with musical instruments:
    Sherlock Holmes was playinga violin when the visitor arrived.
    (BUT to describe the activity we say «He plays the violin.»)
  • with names of days:
    I was born ona Thursday
  • to refer to a kind of, or example of something:
    the mouse hada tiny nose
    the elephant had
     a long trunk
    it was
     a very strange car
  • with singular nouns, after the words‘what’ and ‘such’:
    What a shame!
    She’s such
     a beautiful girl.
  • meaning ‘one’, referring to a single object or person:
    I’d likean orange and two lemons please.
    The burglar took
     a diamond necklace and a valuable painting.

Notice also that we usually say a hundred, a thousand, a million.

NOTE: that we use ‘one to add emphasis or to contrast with other numbers: 
I don’t know one person who likes eating elephant meat.
We’ve got six computers but only one printer.

Do & Make

When do you use DO?

DO is used as follows:

1. DO is used when talking about work, jobs or tasks. Note, they do not produce any physical object.

Have you done your homework?I have guests visiting tonight so I should start doing the housework now.I wouldn’t like to do that job.

2. DO is used when we refer to activities in general without being specific. In these cases, we normally use words like thing, something, nothing, anything, everything etc.

Hurry up! I’ve got things to do!Don’t just stand there – do something!Is there anything I can do to help you?

3. We sometimes use DO to replace a verb when the meaning is clear or obvious. This is more common in informal spoken English:

Do I need to do my hair? (do = brush or comb)Have you done the dishes yet? (done = washed)I’ll do the kitchen if you do the lawns (do = clean, do = mow)

Remember Do can also be as an auxiliary verb (for making questions in the present tense – Do you like chocolate?) For more about Do used in this case, see our page about Do vs Does. Here we will be talking about Do as a normal verb.

When do you use MAKE?

Make is for producing, constructing, creating or building something new.

It is also used to indicate the origin of a product or the materials that are used to make something.

His wedding ring is made of gold.The house was made of adobe.Wine is made from grapes.The watches were made in Switzerland

We also use Make for producing an action or reaction:

Onions make your eyes water.You make me happy.It’s not my fault. My brother made me do it!

You make after certain nouns about plans and decisions:

Make the arrangements, make a choice

We use Make with nouns about speaking and certain sounds:

Make a commentmake a noisemake a speech

We use Make with Food, Drink and Meals:

Make a cakemake a cup of teamake dinner

Compare Do and Make

A: You have to make a cake for Simon.

B: I’ll do it later.

Notice how in the response the verb DO is used. This is because the meaning is clear and to avoid saying “I’ll make it later.” which could sound repetitive.