Thinking Box

Fundamentals of English Grammar - Chapter 10: The Passive

10-1 Active Sentences and Passive Sentences

  • Active
    (a) The mouse ate the cheese.
    (b) The cheese was eaten by the mouse.

    Examples (a) and (b) have the same meaning.

  • Active
    Mouse -> ATE -> Cheese
    Cheese -> WAS EATEN BY -> Mouse

  • Active
    (c) Bob(S) mailed the package(O).
    (d) The package(S) was mailed by Bob.(by + O)

    In (c): The object in an active sentence becomes the subject in a passive sentence.
    In (d): The subject in an active sentence is the object of by in a passive sentence.

10-2 Form of the Passive

be + past participle

  • (a) Corn is grown by farmers.
    (b) Sara was surprised by the news.
    (c) The report will be written by Mary.

    Form of all passive verbs:
    be + past participle
    Be can be in any of its forms: am, is, are, was, were, has been, have been, will be, etc.

Active -> Passive

    Farmers grow corn.
    -> Corn is grow by farmers.
    The news surprised Sara.
    -> Sara was surprised by the news.
    Diana is copying the letters.
    -> The letters are being copied by Diana.
    Diana was copying the letters.
    -> The letters was being copied by Diana.
    Jack has mailed the letter.
    -> The letter has been mailed by Jack.
    Mr.Lee will plan the meeting.
    -> The meeting will be planed by Mr.Lee.
    Sue is going to write the report.
    -> The report is going to be written by Sue.

10-3 Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

  • Transitive (v.t.)
    (a) Bob mailed the letter.
    (b) Mr.Lee signed the check.
    (c) A Cat killed the bird.

    Intransitive (v.i.)
    (d) Something happened.
    (e) Kate came to our house.
    (f) The bird died.

    A TRANSITIVE verb is a verb that is followed by an object. An object is a noun or a pronoun.

  • Common Intransitive Verbs
    agree / die / happen / rise / stand
    appear / exist / laugh / seem / stay
    arrive / fall / live / sit / talk
    become / flow / occur / sleep / wait
    come / go / rain / sneeze / walk

  • Transitive Verbs
    (g) ACTIVE: Bob mailed the letter.
    (h) PASSIVE: The letter was mailed by Bob.

    Intransitive Verbs
    (i) ACTIVE: Something happened.
    (j) PASSIVE: (not possible)
    (k) INCORRECT: Something was happened.

    Only transitive verbs can be used in passive.
    An intransitive verb is NOT used in the passive.

10-4 Using the by-Phrase

  • (a) This sweater was made by my aunt.

    The by-phrase is used in passive sentences when it is important to know who performs an action.

  • (b) My sweater was made in Korea.
    (c) Spanish is spoken in Colombia.
    (d) That house was built in 1940.
    (e) Rice is grown in many countries.

    Usually there is no by-phrase in a passive sentence.
    The passive is used when it is not known or not important to know exactly who performs an action.
    In (b): The exact person (or people) who made the sweater is not known and is not important to know, so there is no by-phrase in the passive sentence.

  • (f) My aunt is very skillful. She made this sweater.
    (g) A: I like your sweaters.
    -> B: Thanks. This sweater was made by my aunt. That sweater was made by my mother.

    Usually the active is used when the speaker knows who performed the action, as in (f), where the focus of attention is on my aunt.
    In (g): Speaker B uses the passive WITH a by-phrase because he wants to focus attention on the subjects of the sentences. The focus of attention is on the two sweaters. The by-phrases add important information.

10-5 Passive Modal Auxiliaries

  • Active Modal Auxiliaries -> Passive Modal Auxiliaries(modal + be + past participle)

    Modal auxiliaries are often used in the passive.

  • Bob will mail it.
    It will be mailed by Bob.

    Bob can mail it.
    It can be mailed by Bob.

    Bob should mail it.
    It should be mailed by Bob.

    Bob ought to mail it.
    It ought to be mailed by Bob.

    Bob must mail it.
    It must be mailed it.

    Bob has to mail it.
    It has to be mailed by Bob.

    Bob may mail it.
    It may be mailed by Bob.

    Bob might mail it.
    It might be mailed by Bob.

    Bob could mail it.
    It could be mailed by Bob.

    modal + be + past participle

10-6 Using Past Participles as Adjectives (Non-Progressive Passive)

  • be + adjective
    (a) Paul is young.
    (b) Paul is tall.
    (c) Paul is hungry.

    be + past participle
    (d) Paul is married.
    (e) Paul is tired.
    (f) Paul is frightened.

    Be can be followed by an adjective, as in (a)-(c). The adjective describes or gives information about the subject of the sentence.

    Be can be followed by a past participle (the passive form), as in (d)-(f). The past participle is often like an adjective. The past participle describes or gives information about the subject of the sentence. Past participles are used as adjectives in many common, everyday expressions.

  • (g) Paul is married to Susan.
    (h) Paul was excited about the game.
    (i) Paul will be prepared for the exam.

    Often the past participles in these expressions are followed by particular prepositions + an object.
    For example:
    In (g): married is followed by to (+ an object)
    In (h): excited is followed by about (+ an object)
    In (i): prepared is followed by for (+ an object)

  • Some Common Expressions with Be Past Participle

    be acquainted (with) / be excited (about) / be opposed (to)

10-7 Participial Adjectives: -ed vs. -ing

  • Art interests me.
    (a) I am interested in art.
    INCORRECT: I am interesting in art.
    (b) Art is interesting.
    INCORRECT: Art is interested.

    The news surprised Kate.
    (c) Kate was surprised.
    (d) The news was surprising.

    The past participle (-ed)* and the present participle (-ing) can be used as adjectives.
    In (a): The past participle (interested) describes how a person feels.
    In (b): The present participle (interesting) describes the cause of the feeling. The cause of the interest is art.
    In (c): surprised describes how Kate felt. The past participle carries a passive meaning: Kate was surprised by the news.
    In (d): the news was the cause of the surprise.

  • (e) Did you hear the surprising news?
    (f) Roberto fixed the broken window.

    Like other adjectives, participial adjectives may follow be, as in examples (a) through (d), or they may come in front of nouns, as in (e) and (f).

*The past participle of regular verbs ends in -ed.

10-8 Get + Adjective; get + Past Participle

Get + Adjective

  • (a) I am getting hungry. Let's eat.
    (b) Eric got nervous before the job interview.

    Get can be followed by an adjective. Get gives the idea of change --- the idea of becoming, beginning to be, growing to be.
    In (a): I'm getting hungry. = I wasn't hungry before, but now I'm beginning to be hungry.

Get + Past Participle

  • (c) I'm getting tired. Let's stop working.
    (d) Steve and Rita got married last month.

    Sometimes get is followed by a past participle. The past participle after get is like an adjective; It describes the subject of the sentence.

  • Get + Adjective

    get angry / get dry / get quiet
    get bald / get fat / get rich

  • Get + Past Participle
    get acquainted / get drunk / get involved
    get arrested / get engaged / get killed
    get bored / get excited / get lost

10-9 Using Be Used/Accustomed To and Get used/Accustomed To

  • (a) I am used to hot weather.
    (b) I am accustomed to hot weather.

    (c) I am used to living in a hot climate.
    (d) I am accustomed to living in a hot climate.

    Examples (a) and (b) have the same meaning: "living in a hot climate is usual and normal for me. I'm familiar with that it is like to live in a hot climate. Hot weather isn't strange or different to me."

    Notice in (c) and (d): to (a preposition) is followed by the -ing form of a verb (a gerund).

  • I just moved from Florida to Alaska. I have never lived in a cold climate before, but I am getting used to (accustomed to) the cold weather here.

    In (e):
    I'm getting used to/accustomed to = something is beginning to seem usual and normal to be.

10-10 Used to vs. Be Used To

  • (a) I used to live Chicago, but now I live in Tokyo.
    INCORRECT: I used to living in Chicago.
    INCORRECT: I am used to live in a big city.

    In (a): Used to expresses the habitual past. It is followed by the simple form of a verb.

  • (b) I am used to living in a big city.

    In (b): be used to is followed by the -ing form of a verb (a gerund).*

*NOTE: In both used to (habitual past) and be used to, the "d" is not pronounced.

10-11 Using Be Supposed To

  • (a) Mike is supposed to call me tomorrow.
    (IDEA: I expect mike to call me tomorrow.)

    (b) We are supposed to write a composition.
    (IDEA: The teacher expects us to write a composition.)

    Be supposed to is used to talk about an activity or event that is expected to occur.
    In (a): The idea of is supposed to is that Mike is expected (by me) to call me. I asked him to call me. He promised to call me. I expect him to call me.

  • (c) Alice was supposed to be home at ten, but she didn't get in until midnight.
    (IDEA: Someone expected Alice to be home at ten.)

    In the past form, be supposed to often expresses the idea that an expected event did not occur, as in (c).