Grammar. 12.10.2015
Grammar Teacher

Passive for distancing (for Advanced level)

Автор: Grammar Teacher

Not so long ago some students from advanced level in Green Forest faced a challenge of learning Passive voice for distancing. As a teacher and friend of advanced level students, I’ve decided to share their burden and highlight this topic once again.


So, what is Passive for distancing and what do we need it for? 


First of all, I hope that you remember that Passive voice itself may be appropriate in two situations. First, the doer of the action (or subject) is unknown. Second, the doer of the action (or subject) is not important or as important as other elements of the sentence. For example:

  • Doer of the action is unknown: The store was severely damaged.
  • Doer of the action is not important (or we just want him/her to be not important) 

In case of Passive for distancing, we mostly talk about some gossips or some other information, which may be uncertain or embarrassing, and we don’t want to show the author of it. Such types of sentences are especially common for media sources. For example on www.dailymail.co.uk I’ve read an article about Spencer Matthews on Ibiza, in which I’ve bumped into such example of Passive for distancing:

To begin with, let’s talk about the form of such Passive structures. There are two ways of forming such sentences: 1) starting with It + passive form of the verb + that; 2) Subject + passive form of the verb + Infinitive. The last one is also called Complex Subject.

You can see that when the sentence starts with ‘It’ the rest of it basically stays the same as in Active voice. Such sentences may also start with such phrases as: It seems as though/ It seems as if, It is often claimed that, It has been estimated that, It has been demonstrated,  It was declared that, It is believed that, etc. For example:

As for the sentences which start with subject (Complex subject sentences), you may have noticed that they are followed by 2 types of Infinitive: Simple Infinitive (Tomatoes are thought to be good for your skin.) and Perfect Infinitive (My neighbour is said to have bought a pony.). You use Simple Infinitive in such type of sentences when you want to speak about the situation happening in present. To emphasise that a situation/fact happened before the time it was reported we use a Perfect Infinitive (to have + Past Participle). For example:

Second type of sentences, the ones which start with Subject, can be also followed by another types of Infinitive: Continuous Infinitive (to be + Ving) and Perfect Continuous Infinitive (to have been + Ving).* For example:

In such cases we use Continuous Infinitive to express duration of action in present (which is expressed with help of Present Continuous in active sentence), and Perfect Continuous Infinitive to emphasize that a situation/fact was happening before the time it was reported (the same function has Past Continuous in active sentence).


To sum up, if you don’t want to be the one who is responsible for a gossip, or some other information, use Passive for distancing. And which way to build the sentence is up to you to opt for: start the sentence with It + passive form of the verb + that, or Subject + passive form of the verb + Infinitive (so called Complex Subject)**. The last one is trickier, ‘cause you need to think of using a proper type of Infinitive. But why don’t you accept this challenge?
You can read about and practice such type of Passive here:

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