The ability to structure the presentation of information in different ways in sentences and clauses, for example to place emphasis on a particular part. Typical strategies for information structuring include employing passive voice and preposing or postposing elements.

  • I really like those shoes ~ Those shoes, I really like [them] (preposing).
  • I left the cake out in the rain ~ The cake was left out in the rain [by me] (passive).

Passives in use

Investigating the effect of using passives

The slides in the Activity page in the right hand menu contain examples of passives from real writing. Have students do the following:

Passives in use: Activity

Extract A (from a student exam paper on emotion)

Furthermore there is evidence that supports these bodily changes as being essential to an emotional state. This evidence involved testing patients with spine severances. The patients were interviewed and tested in a laboratory and results consistently showed that the higher the spine severance the less patients reported being able to ‘feel’ an emotion.

Changing voice


  • Practise changing voice: from active sentences to passive, and passive sentences to active.

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will practise turning actives into passives, and passives into actives.

Activity 1 in the right hand menu presents students with active sentences. Ask students to work individually, in pairs, or in groups and to write down a passive version of the sentence.

Changing voice: Activity 1

Two guards examined the BMW. → The BMW was examined by two guards.

Renoir painted the same road a few months later. → The same road was painted by Renoir a few months later.

His critics were attacking him on all sides. → He was being attacked by his critics on all sides.

Changing voice: Activity 2

The leader of the party is elected by the political party. → The political party elects the leader of the party.

The full costs of their care are met by the NHS. → The NHS meets the full costs of their care.

Information structuring

In this activity, students will be asked to find different ways to express a similar meaning. You may be surprised at just how many different ways you can find! The activity is based on an idea from Max Morenberg’s book Doing Grammar (3rd edition, Oxford University Press, 2002).

Information structuring: Activity

  • Sally was late. It annoyed the boss.

  • Sally was late and it annoyed the boss.
  • It annoyed the boss that Sally was late.
  • Sally’s lateness annoyed the boss.

Y6 GPaS Test: Active or passive?

Indicate whether each example is active or passive:

Active and passive

Consider the two sentences below. What is the difference between them?

  1. The council workers cleared the path.
  2. The path was cleared by the council workers.

The same event is taking place in both sentences, but the sentences have been expressed in different ways.

In the first example the focus is on what the council workers did (they cleared the path), whereas in the second example, the focus is on what happened to the path (it was cleared by the council workers).

Active and passive: Style and use

In some genres of writing – science reports, for example – the passive voice is encouraged. However, many advocates of ‘plain English’ argue that the passive voice can be confusing to readers, and obscures meaning.

The examples below are from articles on the natural sciences, taken from the ICE-GB corpus. They illustrate the use of the passive voice (verb phrases in the passive are highlighted):

Preposing and postposing

As writers and speakers there are many ways in which we can present information to readers or hearers by using different word orders and sentence patterns to highlight different aspects of meaning. This is often referred to as information structuring.

There are many ways we can highlight information. Here we will look at two important ones:


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