It Isn’t Fair!

October 21, 2007


1) It Isn’t Fair!
2) Vocabulary Box
3) Grammar Spot: Passive Voice



It Isn’t Fair!

Two little boys who had been naughty all day long were told by the teacher that they must stay after school and write their names five hundred times.

One of them began to watch the other unhappily.

“Why aren’t you writing, Tommy?” asked the teacher.

Tommy burst into tears.

“It isn’t fair!” he sobbed, “his name is Lee and mine’s Shornsteinfeger!”



Let’s explain some of the words in today’s joke!

– Naughty children behave badly or are not obedient.
– To burst into tears means to suddenly begin to cry.
– The meaning of the verb to sob is to cry noisily, taking in deep breaths.


Passive Voice

After a well-deserved break, I come back ready for new challenges and I propose you a three part lesson on the passive. Today you will learn about the concept of “voice” in grammar and how the passive voice is formed.

In grammar, “voice” is the form of a verb indicating the relation between the participants in an event (subject, object) and the event itself.

Active: The police officer arrested the burglar.
Passive: The burglar was arrested by the police officer.

When a verb is in the active voice (as in the first sentence), the subject of the sentence (the police officer) is the one that performs the action.

When a verb is in the passive voice (second sentence), the subject of the sentence (the burglar) is acted upon by the verb.

How do we recognize passive constructions?

Passive constructions are easy to identify. Look for a form of “to be” (is, are, am, was, were, has been, have been, had been, will be, will have been, being) followed by a past participle. The past participle of regular verbs ends in “-ed”. Irregular verbs have different past participle forms.

The pattern of the passive voice is very simple:

Subject + be (into the same tense as the active verb) + past participle of the main verb.

This house was built in 1987.
Four hundred people are employed in that factory.
His book was first published in Spain.
When was the telegraph invented?

Now let’s compare these active and passive sentences:

Active: Children cannot open these bottles easily.
Passive: These bottles cannot be opened easily by children.

Active: They have treated him very well.
Passive: He has been treated very well.

To change an active verb to the passive form, you have to follow these three steps:

1. The object of the active verb becomes the subject of the passive verb.
2. Change the verb to the passive.
3. The original subject becomes the agent of the passive verb and it is preceded by the preposition “by”. There are cases when the agent can be omitted.

Here is a list of all the verb forms that are normally used in the passive.

Present simple: The office is locked every evening.
Present continuous: The flat is being redecorated.
Present perfect simple: The swimming pool hasn’t been cleaned yet.
Past simple: His car was stolen last night.
Past continuous: The road was being repaired when the tragic accident happened.
Past perfect: I heard that their house had been damaged by the storm.
Future simple: Lunch will be served at the hotel.
Future perfect: The project will have been completed by the end of September.

You can notice from the above examples that perfect continuous passives are very uncommon, this is because of their complicated and inelegant structure.

The palace has been being built for 30 years.

There is a passive infinitive form: be + past participle. We use this form after modal verbs and after some other structures such as “going to”, “have to”, “want to”, “would like to”.

This mystery can’t be solved.
That strange music could be heard from a long distance.
All the workers have to be instructed about the dangers of their job.
I don’t want to be helped.
I would like to be invited to the ball.

The passive perfect infinitive is used when we refer to the past.

The letter might have been sent to the wrong address.
Less money should have been spent for ornaments.
The doctor should have been called at the first signs of the disease.
The concert must have been postponed because of the bad weather.

The passive of “-ing forms” has the following structure: being + past participle.

I don’t like being lied to.
He enjoys being spoiled.
They can’t stand being told what to do.
She remembers being given the book.


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That was all for today. I hope you have enjoyed yourself and learnt
new useful things. Till next time, take care.

Your tutor,

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