Passive Voice

Passive voice is important for IELTS. Whenever you speak or write, or try to understand reading passages, you need to have the ability to use and understand a good range of grammar.

However, a way that the passive is specifically needed for IELTS is if you get a process diagram in Academic IELTS Task 1. In this case you will use it throughout your explanation of the process.

So first we'll take a look at how to use the passive voice generally, then we'll see how it is used in a Task 1.

What are the Active and Passive?

When we use the active voice, the subject is doing the action of the verb:

When we use the passive voice, the person or thing receiving the action becomes the subject:

Active Passive
The dog bit the boy
The boy was bitten by the dog

What are the Passive Voice Rules?

To make a sentence passive, we do three things:

  1. Move the object of the sentence, and make it the subject. The object thus becomes the subject (often we exclude the object because it is not important to the sentence).

  2. Add in "by" before the new object (if you are including it in the new sentence)

  3. Add the verb "to be" to the front of the verb, and change the verb to the past participle. You then have a passive voice verb. Remember to keep the tense the same.
Active Passive
The dog (subject) bit (verb) the boy (object)

The boy (new subject) was bitten (new verb form) by the dog (new object).

The boy (subject) was bitten (verb).

In this case the verb "bit" is in the past simple, so when it is made passive, the verb "to be" must be the past simple - "was".

Passive Voice Examples

These are examples of how we form it with different tenses (without the object in the passive):

Tense Active Passive
Present I eat the food The food is eaten
Present Continuous I am eating the food The food is being eaten
Present Perfect I have eaten the food The food has been eaten
Past I ate the food The food was eaten
Past Continuous I was eating the food The food was being eaten
Past Perfect I had eaten the food The food had been eaten
Future I will eat the food The food will be eaten
Future Perfect I will have eaten the food The food will have been eaten
Present Modal I can eat the food The food can be eaten
I should eat the food The food should be eaten
I may eat the food The food may be eaten
Past Modals I could have eaten the food The food could have been eaten
I should have eaten the food The food should have been eaten
I may have eaten the food The food may have been eaten

Gerunds and Infinitives

We can also use the passive voice for infinitive and gerund structures:

Tense Infinitive Gerund



to + be + Past Participle

She wanted to be taken care of

Being + Past Participle

Being taken care of was wonderful.



to + have been + Past Participle

She was happy to have been chosen

having been + Past Participle

She celebrated having been chosen

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

However, you cannot use the passive with intransitive verbs.

Transitive verbs have to take an object. For example, you cannot say "He discovered". This is a transitive verb so it needs an object: " He discovered a cure".

So this can be made passive: "A cure was discovered".

Intransitive verbs are not followed by an object. For example, you can say "He died". Or it could be followed by an adverb: "He died yesterday".

But we cannot say: "He was died" or "Yesterday was died he".

When do we use it?

It is much more common to use the active than the passive, so you should only use it if there is a specific reason. Below are are the reasons that we use it.

Remember that this is usually a matter of choice for you, depending on the context in which you are writing.

1. When you think the receiver of the action is more important than the doer of the action

Interested in the doer Interested in the action
The farmer harvested the corn in September
The corn was harvested in September

2. When you think it is obvious who the doer is so it does not need to be mentioned

An obvious subject Omitting the doer
The police arrested the burglar
The burglar was arrested

3. When the doer of the action is unknown or we don't want the doer to be known

A known doer An unknown doer
Jonathan stole Peter's phone
Peter's phone was stolen

4. When you think the doer is irrelevant

You feel it is relevant You feel it is irrelevant
The manager will close the shop at 3pm
The shop will be closed at 5pm

5. When you are writing for certain genres, such as science reports or for academic journals

Referring to the researcher Anonymising the researcher
I can draw several conclusions from the results
Several conclusions can be drawn from the results

When do we use the passive voice for IELTS?

As it is just a part of general grammar, you may use it at any point in the speaking or writing.

The time when you will really be in trouble if you don't know how to use it is if you have to write about a process in Task 1 of Academic IELTS.

Here is an example of a process diagram, where you have to describe the process of making chocolate:

When we describe a process such as this, we are not interested in who does the activity, the "doer", we are interested in the activity itself.

So in order to emphasize this, the activities are used as the subjects. Check out this model answer - the passive voice has been highlighted.

To begin, the cocoa comes from the cacao tree, which is grown in the South American and African continents and the country of Indonesia. Once the pods are ripe and red, they are harvested and the white cocoa beans are removed. Following a period of fermentation, they are then laid out on a large tray so they can dry under the sun. Next, they are placed into large sacks and delivered to the factory. They are then roasted at a temperature of 350 degrees, after which the beans are crushed and separated from their outer shell. In the final stage, this inner part that is left is pressed and the chocolate is produced.

You can view some more examples of process diagrams here:

Brick Manufacturing Process

Tea Manufacturing Process

Passive Voice Excercise

You can now test yourself with the passive voice.

In the quiz, the sentence given is active. Write the passive sentence below.

DO NOT include the object i.e. "by ...", unless you are asked to do so. If you do it will get marked as incorrect. Include everything else.

Don't put a space or full-stop (period) after your sentence as it will also appear as incorrect, and start the sentence with a capital letter.

Here is an example:

      Active: I have read the book

      Answer: The book has been read

Passive Quiz

1. John cancelled the meeting

2. The van takes the meat to the market

3. I will take the medicine

4. The police interviewed the suspect

5. The canteen was serving lunch

6. His grandfather looked after him. (use an object)

7. The boss will fire him tomorrow

8. I can still use this pen

9. My uncle raised me. (use an object)

10. I will paint the room next month

Score =
Correct answers:



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Other Grammar Lessons:

Sentence clauses

Sentence structure

Complex sentences

Adverbial Clauses

Relative Clauses

Noun Clauses

Modal verbs

Subject Verb Agreement



Gerund or Infinitive?

Parallel Structure

Passive Voice

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