Learn about the use of  Passive Versus Active + Causative verbs.

We often use the passive to describe a process or emphasize the action rather than who is doing the action. Some of the TOEIC Grammar questions will test your knowledge on the structure and use of the passive form. We’ll first take a look at the structure.

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The passive always contains: to be + past participle

The verb ‘to be’ can be conjugated in any tense:

  • Present simple: am, is, are                 Present continuous: am / is / are being
  • Past simple: was, were                       Past continuous: was / were being
  • Present perfect: has / have been          Past perfect: had been
  • Future: will be                                     With modals: can / could / must / would / should… be
  • Modals in the past: could / should / would / must have been

The past participle for ‘regular verbs’ is ‘-ed’: ask -> asked

For irregular verbs, you need to check an irregular verb list; past participles are in the third column: write – wrote – written 

  • The fees were included in the contract.
  • The prices will be written on the quotation.
  • The operators have been asked to speed up production.

In the above examples, we don’t know who included the fees, who will write the quotation, nor who have asked the operators. This information is not considered necessary or important. However, it can be included if necessary by adding the ‘by’ after the past participle:

  • One of the most famous social network companies was founded by a college drop-out.


The passive is used more commonly in writing especially in reports, textbooks, in industry, science and technology to describe processes, and for official rules. We use the passive in these cases because we don’t always know who the ‘agent’ is.

Compare the active and the passive in the following examples:

ACTIVE                                                                                    PASSIVE

  • People have used this application for a long time.    This application has been used for a long time.
  • You freeze-dry the reagent in the vials.                     Reagents are freeze-dried in the vials.
  • Someone has to count the points at the end.            The points have to be counted at the end.    

Things to look out for on the TOEIC Grammar

> We sometimes use ‘get’ instead of ‘be’.

  • They got lost on their way to the construction site.
  • Do you often get asked questions about your unusual professional background?

> Don’t confuse the past participle (-ed or irregular form) with the present participle (-ing)

  • I am interested in this article.           
  • This is an interesting article. 

A present participle can be used to describe the feeling that a noun causes. The article interests me. The past participle tells us how the subject feels. We can substitute the verb ‘feel’ for the verb ‘be’:

  • I was bored during the movie. (I felt bored.) 
  • That movie was really boring. (The movie caused me to be bored.)

Other verb pairs that can be confusing (or that make us confused!) :

  • Jane told us an amusing/shocking/surprising story. 
  • We were amused by/shocked by (or at)/surprised at her story.
  • The 10-day strike was annoying for the commuters.
  • The commuters were annoyed about the strike.

Causative Verbs

Causative verbs are used to show that a person causes, makes or enables another person to do something or make something happen. The structure of these types of sentences can be confusing as the verb after the causative verb may be in either the infinitive without ‘to’, the ‘to-infinitive’ or the past participle depending on the causative verb used. On the TOEIC, you will need to understand these differences.

TOEIC grammar : Passive versus Active + Causative verbs

What to look out for

> ‘Have’ someone do something indicates that a person used his/her authority to obtain the result.

  • The production manager had the technicians modify the electrical outlets.

> ‘Get’ someone to do something indicates that the person persuaded someone else to do something.

  • The Human Resources Manager got the employees to sign a worksite safety agreement.

> When we use the past participle, we don’t say who carried out the action.

  • We’ve had the new protocol checked and certified.
  • They got the machine operator to look for the cause of the defects.

> ‘Let’ someone do something means to give someone permission and is similar to ‘allow’.

  • Their employer lets them leave early on Fridays in the summer.

> ‘Make’ someone do something is more like ‘force’ someone to do something.

  • She made me write a letter of apology even though I had done nothing wrong.
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