Which 5 passive errors are common with students?

This is the fourth and final chapter about Passive Constructions. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Remind the reader of the basics of the passive in English

– Introduce five errors that students commonly make

– Use examples wherever possible to help guide to reader

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Chapter 4

In this fourth and final chapter on passive constructions, we take a look at the five most common types of errors that students make when attempting to shift from the active to the passive voice. For in depth explanation of what the passive voice is, discussion of the ten ways in which the passive is used in general and academic English, and exploration of the seven structures the passive may take, see Chapters 1, 2 and 3 on this topic respectively and complete the associated activities.

Error 1: Confusing Comprehension

One common error that students may make is that they miscomprehend an expression that involves a passive construction, usually by believing that the subject of the passive construction is the agent of the expression – when in fact, as was explained in Chapter 1, it is instead the patient (the receiver of the action of the verb). As the following examples demonstrate, this error may be particularly likely when the expression contains facts which are contrary to normal expectations – such as when a policemen is arrested by a citizen. Mistakes in comprehension are also commonly made when the student is listening instead of reading (as there’s no time to go back and check what was heard) and when the past tense form of the verb and its past participle are identical – as in ‘have arrested’ and ‘was arrested’.


“The policeman was arrested by the citizen.”

“The man was attacked by the woman.”

“The worker was fixed by the machine.”


Error 2: Confusing the Usage

Another common error that students make is in not knowing when to use the passive and when to avoid it. Some students may underuse this construction while others have a tendency to overuse it – and neither situation sounds particularly natural to a native speaker. Thankfully, and as the following table summarises, Chapter 2 of this short course on passive constructions deals with the ten most common passive scenarios for your reference:

Error 3: Misusing Auxiliary Verbs

As was explained in Chapter 3, passive constructions almost always require the auxiliary verb ‘be’ and the past participle of the main verb. However, as was also explained in that lesson, sometimes the verbs ‘get’ and ‘have’ may also be used or required in passive constructions. Students may therefore make errors either by (a) forgetting to include an auxiliary verb, (b) including the wrong auxiliary verb, or (c) incorrectly using the forms ‘be’, ‘been’ and ‘being’. Hopefully, by paying careful attention to the auxiliary verbs used in passive constructions, students can avoid making too many mistakes in this area.


Error 4: Misusing Prepositions

Likewise, prepositions such as ‘by’ can be confusing for learners of English when forming passive constructions. While it’s true that the agent of a passive structure may be in cluded as an optional ‘by’ phrase, this doesn’t mean that other prepositional phrases headed by prepositions such as ‘on’, ‘in’ or ‘with’ cannot be used too to introduce other meaning-changing elements. Indeed, some students have a tendency to overuse ‘by’ in passive constructions when another preposition would be more accurate, such as in the following examples: 


“The turkey was carved into quarters (by the chef).”

“The chair was broken with a hammer (by the carpenter).”

“The student was corrected in front of everyone (by the teacher).”


Error 5: Incorrectly Forming Past Participles

Finally, past participles, which are the most important element of a passive construction in addition to the verb ‘be’, can also cause some confusion for non-native speakers of English (and even sometimes native speakers). This is because the past participle form may or may not be the same as the past tense form and also may or may not be regularly formed. To help students in this area, we’ve included a list of the most common academic past participles below.


Common Academic Past Participles

accepted, achieved, adapted, advanced, affected, allocated, allowed, altered, analysed, arisen, asserted, assessed, associated, assisted, assumed, attempted, avoided, based, benefitted, caused, chosen, cited, claimed, clarified, classified, combined, compared, concentrated, concluded, conducted, connected, considered, consisted, constituted, constructed, contrasted, corresponded, declined, defined, demonstrated, described, designed, determined, developed, discussed, displayed, distinguished, effected, eliminated, enabled, encountered, encouraged, enhanced, ensured, evaluated, examined, exceeded, exemplified, expanded, explained, expressed, facilitated, favoured, formed, formulated, generated, highlighted, identified, illustrated, implied, improved, included, increased, indicated, influenced, interpreted, introduced, investigated, involved, isolated, led, limited, located, maintained, measured, neglected, noted, obtained, outlined, overcome, perceived, possessed, predicted, presented, prevented, produced, proven, provided, published, pursued, quoted, received, reduced, reflected, regarded, reinforced, related, removed, replaced, reported, represented, reproduced, resolved, responded, restricted, retained, revealed, selected, separated, shown, solved, specified, stated, strengthened, stressed, studied, submitted, suggested, summarised, supported, transformed, treated, undermined, undertaken, varied


Well done on completing this short course on passive constructions. As well as attempting our Chapter 4 activities to check your understanding, don’t forget to also consider studying other topics on syntax and academic grammar to continue to expand your knowledge and improve your skills.  

4 of 4 Chapters Completed


Once you’ve completed all four chapters in this short reader about Passive Constructions, you might then wish to download our Chapter Worksheets to check your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

Chapter 1 explores the topic: How are active and passive constructions different? Our Chapter 1 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button.

Chapter 2 explores the topic: How can the passive be used in academic English? Our Chapter 2 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Chapter 3 explores the topic: Which 7 English passive constructions are useful? Our Chapter 3 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Chapter 4 explores the topic: Which 5 passive errors are common with students? Our Chapter 4 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

To save yourself 3 Marks, click on the button below to gain unlimited access to all of our Passive Constructions Chapter Worksheets. This All-in-1 Pack includes every chapter, activity and answer key related to this topic in one handy and professional PDF.


There are currently no PowerPoint activities, additional teacher resources or audio and video recordings created for this topic. Please come back again next semester.

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