19. Passive Verb Forms

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Luke’s English Podcast is for people learning English as a foreign language. This episode is about passive verb forms, their use and pronunciation. You can read a transcript below:

Hello, welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. It’s been ages and ages since I last did one. I’ve been really busy with lots of things, but mainly: my music (I’m in two bands at the moment – The school band is playing a concert at Brook Green Hotel in Shepherds Bush on Friday 14th August, and my cousin’s band Neech are playing the Big Chill Festival this Saturday. I’m playing drums in both bands. ) So, I’ve been busy practising with those bands.

Also, I’ve been teaching general English summer courses at my school. They’re usually very busy because we have lots of students in the school, and the teachers have to write their own material- we don’t use books. So, I’ve been using all my energy on music and work. Anyway, now I have some time to do a Podcast.

Hello to everyone who has sent me a message – I don’t have time to name you all. The Podcast is becoming more and more popular. I’m getting messages via email, Twitter, and my comments box on the webpage. If you’re listening on iTunes, go to my site to read a transcript of everything in this podcast. I’m being very generous today and I’m providing a whole transcript! Don’t forget, if you’re a rich Russian business man, or a Saudi oil sheik, you can send me money as a donation – about 2million would be nice. That should be enough to help me make a few more podcasts before I retire to the carribean. Actually, I have made absolutely NO money from this podcast, and at the moment I’m doing it just for the love.


Now, there is useful stuff in this podcast. You’re going to learn about:

Exactly how and why we use passive forms.

Some pronunciation of passive forms.

There will be real examples. The grammar will be carefully explained.

I will provide pronunciation drills – sentences in British English for you to copy and help your accurate speaking.

That’s it – enjoyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!


STOP – grammar time.

That’s right, it’s grammar time ladies and gentlemen, and this grammar point is about Passive Forms

At higher levels, the study of grammar becomes more in depth and as a result of this, it becomes a lot more theoretical and complicated. So, it becomes difficult to understandand sometimes boring. I’m sure you’ve all had those boring grammar classes in which you don’t really understand anything, and just make you fall asleep. However, in order to get a full understanding of how the language works and why mistakes are made etc, grammar has to be studied. Using a range of grammatical forms is also a feature of good, fluent, advanced speaking.

This brings us to passive forms. They are used a lot in English. Honestly, they are. In my opinion, there are 3 difficult things for students to deal with when studying the passive:

1) The complicated form – it is hard to manipulate sentences using the passive in different tenses, and after modal verbs etc ( this is because of all the different auxiliary verbs, past participles etc).

2) Understanding how and why the passive is used. Many students say they know how to construct passive sentences, but don’t know when they should use them.

3) The pronunciation of passive forms – it can be difficult to hear all the little words used when native speakers use passive forms. Also, it’s difficult to pronounce them correctly if you’re not a native speaker.

In this podcast I’m going to talk about the passive form, why it is used and the pronunciation of sentences with a variety of passive forms. Later in this podcast you will hear some pronunciation drills which you can (and should) use to develop your pron.

What are passive forms? (point 1)

I am not going to go into great depth about this area. You can look at the back of your textbook or in a good grammar book to look at how the passive form changes in different tenses and after certain verbs. Nevertheless, here is a basic overview of what passive forms are:

Active sentences are in this structure:


E.g. Michael Jackson – wrote – this song

The subject is the agent (the thing that ‘does’ the verb)

The agent is included because it is important, or is the topic of the sentence (e.g. if the question is “who wrote this song?” it is important to say “Michael Jackson wrote it”)

But, sometimes it is better to order the sentence in a different way. Like this passive sentence:


E.g. The song – was written – (by Michael Jackson)

In passive sentences:

The form is different – You always have an auxiliary verb ‘be’ – this can come in many forms, eg. Being, been, was, were, am, are, is

The agent is often not included

If the agent is included, you have to use a preposition (by)

You need to use a past participle verb, and these are sometimes difficult to remember

Why is the passive used? (point 2)

It is sometimes thought that passives are not necessary. “Why bother using them?”. Some students say that they don’t think native speakers use them – and that teachers teach them just because they have to. Some students just don’t use passive forms in their sentences, which is one of the reasons why they don’t go beyond an intermediate level. One thing I can say for sure is that when teachers teach grammar forms – they do it because they are essential for the imporovement of your English. Don’t forget – advanced speakers use a variety of grammatical forms and vocabulary…


They are used a lot, and they are useful. But, why? and how?

Here’s a list of reasons why the passive is used:

  • The agent is unknown (“What happened to the pizza?” “It was eaten” “by who? “we don’t know”)
  • The agent is not important (“I don’t care who did it, I’m just angry that my pizza was eaten! I was going to eat it later!”)
  • The agent is obvious (The thief was arrested -obviously it was the police because they usually do that)
  • The process (the action of the verb) is more important than the agent (the one who did it) “I’m just annoyed that my pizza has been eaten already – I didn’t even get a chance to have any”
  • The patient (the pizza – it receives the action of the verb) is the topic of the sentence or story, so it is put at the beginning.


Real Examples: BBC News Report

OK, listen to the following news story about Michael Jackson’s death. It contains 10 passive forms, but in complex tenses. Can you find them. Before you listen, let me explain these words:

Paramedics – Doctors who drive ambulances!

Beverly Hills – An area in California where lots of famous people live

Suffer a cardiac arrest – to have a heart attack

To be due to do something – to be arranged to happen. It is going to happen because it is planned

To resuscitate someone – to bring someone to life – using electricity, or breathing or pumping the chest

A post-mortem – a medical examination of a body after it has died


So, there are 10 passive forms. Can you find them?


Pop star Michael Jackson has died in Los Angeles, aged 50.

Paramedics were called to the singer’s Beverly Hills home at about midday on Thursday after he stopped breathing.

He was pronounced dead two hours later at the UCLA medical centre.

Jackson, who had a history of health problems, had been due to perform a series of comeback concerts in the UK, beginning on 13 July. He is believed to have suffered a cardiac arrest.

Speaking on behalf of the Jackson family, Michael’s broter Jermaine said doctors had tried to resuscitate the star for more than an hour without success.

Jackson’s body was flown from UCLA to the LA County Coroner’s office, where a post-mortem was carried out. The results have not yet been published.

Concerns over Michael’s health were raised last month when four of Jackson’s planned comeback concerts were postponed, but organisers insisted the dates had been moved due to the difficulty of organising the show.


Find examples of the passive in the text. There should be 10.

Think about these things:

1. Which tenses are used? (present simple, past simple, passive infinitive)

2. Why has the passive been used in each case? Use the list of reasons from the second page to help you.


Here are the passive sentences:

# Example Tense Why is the passive used?





Paramedics were called to the singer’s Beverly Hills home



Past simple


It is not important/we don’t know who called the paramedics






He was pronounced dead



Past simple


It’s obvious that doctors at the hospital pronounced him dead







Jackson had been due to perform a series of comeback concerts




Past perfect


Actually, it is impossible to put this sentence in an active form. To be due to do something is just a fixed passive expression







He is believed to have suffered a cardiac arrest



Present simple


Obviously, doctors/experts/journalists believe this







Jackson’s body was flown



Past simple


We don’t know/it’s unimportant/obvious who flew the plane – and the story is all about Jackson’s body.







a post-mortem was carried out



Past simple


Obviously, doctors carried out the post mortem







The results have not yet been published.



Present perfect


We don’t know/it’s not important/it’s obvious who publish the reports. Doctors or lawyers or something…







Concerns over Michael’s health were raised last month


Past simple


We don’t know – just that people were concerned. Putting the concern at the beginning (as a noun) is better than saying ‘people were concerned’ – the important thing is the concern, not the people.







four of Jackson’s planned comeback concerts were postponed


Past simple


Obviously, they were postponed by Jackson’s managers & promotors









the dates had been moved



Past perfect


Again, we know who moved them – it was his managers





How are passives pronounced in sentences?

In a moment I am going to read some sentences with passives in them. I’m focussing on the way these passives are pronounced. There are two main issues:

Auxiliary verbs pronounced with weak forms so they are difficult to hear.

Past participles (especially –ed) ones are just difficult words to pronounce correctly.

So, listen to me read the sentences. I’ll read each sentence once with all the words individually pronounced. Then I’ll read them with the words linked up. Repeat the linked up sentences. Try to copy exactly how I say it – think about the rhythm and word stress I’m using. You could record yourself – this will really help you.

In these sentences there are passive forms, but also lots of other words. Try to pronounce them correctly too. Try to say the sentence as one long sound with all the words linked together. We don’t always link every word, but it is good pronunciation practice.


Present simple passive:

We’re given a test at the end of the course to check our progress in English


Present continuous passive:

We’re always being encouraged by our teacher to read books in English


Present perfect passive:

My podcast has been downloaded 120 times today already


Past simple passive:

All the the students were given a grammar test as soon as they arrived at school


Past continuous passive:

The students were being interviewed when I arrived at quarter past 10


Past perfect passive:

Everyone had already been put in their classes, except me.


Will + passive:

The podcast will be uploaded onto the iTunes store in the next few days


Going to + passive:

The new Harry Potter film is going to be released on Friday


So, you can go back to those sentences and listen and repeat them again and again.

That’s it, bye bye bye bye bye byebye!

12 responses to “19. Passive Verb Forms

  1. Pingback: Teacher Luke’s lessons | Notes

  2. Frankie Castiglione


  3. Frankie Castiglione

    I’d LOVE a new podcast where you speak and we can repeat after you, i think it’s a god idea , isn’t it? :D

  4. Frankie Castiglione

    Great! And so useful.

  5. @Acupofteaplis: It may be too late to answer you, but…
    “-obviously it was the police because they usually do that”
    - “it” refers to “The agent” in the earlier part of the sentence which is a singular noun.
    - “they” refer to the group “the police” which, although it is acting as a singular collective noun in terms of agency, is most commonly treated as if it was a group of inividuals, so “they” is used in the explanation. If “the police” had been “the police force”, instead, then “it” could have been used in place of “they” as it is definitely a singular collective noun.



  6. Acupofteaplis

    -obviously it was the police because it usually does that

  7. Acupofteaplis

    Or :
    -obviously it was the police because it does that

  8. Acupofteaplis

    -obviously it was the police because they usually do that)
    Can you tell me, why first you say “it” and after “they” instead of “they” in both cases when you refer to the police, please?. That way:
    -obviously they were the police because they usually do that.

  9. thanks a lot. you’re the best!

  10. Most helpfull …thanks

  11. Awesome…. tks sir, you are the best online teacher :D

  12. Nice to see someone treating the passive voice as an important tool in English language use, and not simply dismissing it as ‘unclear about agency’ etc. Especially in the context of ESL teaching. Cheers.

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