Using passives at A2 level
Currently, there is no evidence in the Cambridge Learner Corpus of the use of the passive at A1 level.
At A2 level, learners have begun to use the passive to discuss familiar topics. They can, for example, use the passive affirmative with by to add information about something already known.
It was bought by my uncle. (Key English Test; Chinese)
It’s made by Sony-Ericsson, I love it … (Key English Test; Italian)
It was written by an excellent author, Lev Tolstoy. (Key English Test; Russian)
Learners at A2 can use the past simple passive affirmative after a singular subject.
It was built in 1880. (Key English Test; Chinese)
On Saturday morning I was invited to a sports competition. (Key English Test; Indian)
They can also use the present simple passive affirmative with a singular subject.
The group is called “playmo”. (Key English Test; French)
I bought a T-shirt, it cost £42 because it is made of cotton. (Key English Test; Spanish — Latin American)
It is interesting to find that A2 learners, who have just been introduced to the present simple and past simple passive forms, are able to make natural and accurate use of them immediately. They can use a number of high-frequency passive expressions, such as be made by, be made of, be built, be invited toand be called, often with it as the subject. However, the sentences they produce are in the affirmative — there is no evidence in the Cambridge Learner Corpus at present of the use of present simple or past simple negative forms at A2.
Using the passive at B1 level
At B1 level, there is a great leap in learner ability to use this voice. In addition to the A2 uses, they are able to use a wider variety of verbs with a greater variety of passive forms.
B1 learners have the ability to use the present simple affirmative and negative with a range of pronoun and noun subjects. Note that the second and third examples shown below are from Business English exams, as are several of the other examples illustrated in the English Grammar Profile at this level. This reflects the more frequent use of the passive in Business writing, due to its more formal nature and the nature of the exam tasks set.
The walls are painted in a dark blue, and the floor is wood. (Cambridge English: Preliminary, Dutch)
Our office is situated near the airport. (Cambridge English: Business Preliminary; Spanish — Latin American)
I think we should replace the printer, because it prints very slowly and the sheets aren’t printed properly. (Cambridge English: Business Preliminary; Swiss German)
B1 learners can use the past simple passive affirmative with a range of pronoun and noun subjects, both singular and plural. Although they use the affirmative form competently, there is no evidence at present of any significant use of the past simple passive negative.
It was written in a strange language that I tried to translate. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Spanish — Latin American)
Next day, I heard that my neighbour’s car was stolen. (Skills for Life entry level 3; Polish)
They filmed the flowers and trees, and some pupils were interviewed about their work in the garden, too. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; German)
Learners at this level can also use the past simple passive affirmative with a limited range of verbs needing two objects, putting the indirect object in subject position.
So I was given a ticket for a train, running from Berlin to Munich. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; German)
We were lucky, because we were given another chance. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Serbian)
The CLC also reveals that at B1 level, learners are able to use the passive with by in more sophisticated ways. They can, for example, use it to give focus.
My school was chosen by the TV company because it is one of the newest in town. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Italian)
They can use the passive with by in a relative clause, often to add more information.
I also like wearing clothes which are manufactured by famous brands. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Tamil)
It’s the highest mountain in U.A.E. Special roads were built for people to reach the top of the mountain, which was surrounded by houses. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Arabic — Gulf)
In addition, B1 learners are able to use the passive infinitive after a limited number of expressions including going to, have to, need to and want to.
It is going to be shown this Friday. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Turkish)
After that, they printed an authorisation form, which had to be signed by my parents because I’m not over eighteen. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Spanish — European)
He wants to be informed about sales development by the end of November 2001. (Cambridge English: Business Preliminary; Swiss German)
They can accurately use the present continuous passive affirmative, although with a limited range of verbs.
Did you know that the next Harry Potter movie is being filmed in my school? (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Catalan)
Why don’t we stay at my house and visit Tokyo, where an interesting Japanese history exhibition is being held. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Japanese)
They filmed a class where the clothes are being tested at the moment and they interviewed some people. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; German)
At B1 level, learners can now use the present continuous passive affirmative to refer to the future.
The seminar is being held at Chennai in the next week. (Cambridge English: Business Preliminary; Marathi)
We are being visited by our Sales Director on Thursday morning. (Cambridge English: Business Preliminary; Portuguese — Brazil)
At present, however, there are no examples of the present continuous passive negative at B1 level. Although negative forms are taught at this level, they don’t seem to be produced until the B2 level. Similarly there is very little evidence that B1 learners are using passives with modal verbs, although again this is taught at this level. This might be an ‘opportunity of use’ issue, i.e. perhaps the students did not get the chance to use these structures in their exams because none of the exam tasks required them. An alternative interpretation could be that they find ways to avoid using these structures until B2, when they become more confident with passives.