Saturday, June 1, 2013

Passive reporting structures

In informal language we often use impersonal expressions like:
  • People say that the minister is likely to resign.
  • They expect him to announce his resignation this week.
  • They think that there are two possible candidates for his job.
In newspapers, reports and other more formal writing, this idea is often expressed with a structure based on a passive reporting verb. This has the effect of distancing the information. In this post we look at three such structures:
  • It is said that the minister is likely to resign.
  • He is expected to announce his resignation this week.
  • There are thought to be two possible candidates for his job.
To do these exercises you need to know the basics of making passive structures. If you need reminding, you could look at my post - Introduction to the passive

1. It is said that ...

  • It is said that ...
  • It was thought that ...
  • It has been suggested that ... etc
Verbs used like this include: agree, announce, believe, calculate, claim, consider, discover, estimate, expect, feel, hope, know, report, say, show, suggest, think, understand
  • Pattern: It + passive reporting verb + that + clause
Note: These verbs are most frequently used in simple and perfect tenses in the present and past. Remember that verbs like believe, hope, know, think, understand are not used in continuous tenses.
Exercise 1Rewrite the sentences starting with It plus a passive structure. pay attention to tense, but don't add any punctuation. Don't use any contractions.
1. They felt that the cost was too high.
2. Forecasters have predicted that the weekend will be very cold.
3. They don't think that the government will call an early election.
4. Experts are suggesting that inflation will remain steady.
5. We had understood that the hostages would be released yesterday.
6. Officials have announced that the princess will leave hospital next week.

2. He is said to be ...

We can also use a structure with a subject, a passive verb and a to-infinitive:
  • The president is thought to be planning a trip to the area.
  • The young actor was reported to have signed up for a new film.
  • More engineers are expected to be taken on soon.
Verbs used like this include: believe, expect, report, say, think, understand
  • Pattern: subject + passive reporting verb + to-infinitive clause

Infinitive forms

We can use the to-infinitive in various forms. See if you can remember them (use the examples above to help you):
Exercise 2aEnter the six forms of the to-infinitive of the verb do.
standardWe need it immediately.
continuousShe appears it right now.
perfectHe seems it already.
perfect continuousWe seem it for hours.
passiveIt needs before the end of the week.
passive perfectIt appears rather well.
Note: Perfect infinitives are used for actions that happened before the reporting.
Exercise 2bEnter a suitable verb in the appropriate form of the infinitive. Each infinitive is in a different form.
announce   ·   publish   ·   consider   ·   arrest   ·   hide   ·   escape
1. The minister is expected his resignation tomorrow.
2. The government are understood an early election.
3. They are thought in a deserted cottage.
4. The couple had earlier been believed from police custody.
5. The results of the survey are expected next week.
6. Two people are reported in connection with the robbery.

3. There is/are said to be ...

We can use a third pattern with preparatory there and a passive reporting verb followed by a to-infinitive, especially when saying something exists or existed.
  • There is understood to be a strong desire for peace talks.
  • There are reported to have been several explosions.
  • There was thought to be another entrance to the building.
  • There were said to have been a lot of applicants for the job.
Note the use of tenses, the agreement between the passive reporting verb and the noun phrase, and the use of standard and perfect infinitives.
  • Pattern: There is/are + passive verb + to be/to have been + noun phrase
Verbs used like this include: feel, presume, report, say, think, understand
Exercise 3Make passive sentences starting with There is ... or There are ... using the reporting verb in brackets in the tense given, plus a standard or perfect infinitive of be as instructed, plus the phrase given.
1. many species still undiscovered (think - present simple) - standard
2. considerable support for the idea (understand - present simple) - standard
3. any need to act immediately (not feel - past simple) - standard
4. enough supplies to go round (presume - past simple) - standard
5. a shortage of medicines (report - past simple) - perfect
6. several reasons for the failure (say - present simple) - perfect

4. Passive reporting structures - putting it all together

Exercise 4Make passive sentences starting with the words in italics. Don't use contractions and don't add any punctuation.
1. It is felt that the project is too expensive.
2. It was said that the tax changes helped poorer people.
3. It is alleged that a fight between rival fans broke out after the match.
4. It has been reported that more bad weather is on the way.
5. It was believed that the company were about to announce redundancies.
6. It was later considered that his behaviour had been unacceptable.
7. It is expected that new supplies will arrive soon.
8. It had been claimed that the drug was perfectly safe.
9. It is presumed that everybody escaped unharmed from the wreckage.
10. It is now thought that the number of injured is lower than was feared.

Sharks (adapted from Wikipedia)

Exercise 5Make sentences with passive reporting structures starting with the words in given in brackets. Don't use contractions and don't add any punctuation.
1. It is thought that there are more than 400 species of sharks. (There)
2. Biologists say that sharks share a class with rays and skates. (Sharks)
3. It is said that sharks have 5 to 15 rows of teeth in each jaw. (They)
4. Experts estimate that sharks' teeth fall out after only a week.(It)
5. There is said to be one species that grows to a length of 12 metres. (There)
6. Experts believe that these whale sharks can live for more than 100 years.(It)
7. It was reported that there had been 118 shark attacks in 2011. (There)
8. Experts consider that the danger has been exaggerated (The danger)
9. They consider that only ten shark species are dangerous to humans. (Only)
10. They say that humans are a greater threat to sharks than vice versa. (Humans)

Bats (adapted from Wikipedia)

Photo of Big-eared Townsend bat from Wikipedia

Exercise 6 - Read the text, then fill each gap with one word.

It is said (1) the only mammal naturally capable of true and sustained flight is the bat. Other mammals said (2) fly, such as flying squirrels and gliding possums glide rather than fly, and can only glide for short distances.
Bats (3) thought to represent about 20% of all classified mammal species worldwide and (4) are calculated to be about 1,240 bat species in the world. There (5) sometimes thought to have been one single common bat ancestor, from which all bat species have evolved.
It (6) believed that about 70% of bats are insectivores, with most of the rest thought (7) be fruit eaters, and a very few carnivores. There (8) thought to be bats in almost every habitat available on Earth, with the exception of the two polar regions. In many places they (9) considered to play a vital role in pollinating seeds and controlling the numbers of insects pests.
It has (10) contended that Kitti's hog-nosed bat is the smallest extant species of mammal, although claims have also been made for the Etruscan shrew. (11) is generally agreed that the largest species of bat is the giant golden-crowned flying fox, which (12) said to have a wingspan of 1.5 m.


  1. Thanks a lot for having designed this useful resource. God bless you.

  2. The correct answer to Ex 4.6 is wrong. It should be "unacceptable", not "unnacceptable".

  3. Oops! Thanks for that; I've corrected it.

  4. In exercice 1, when I corrected it, it said that almost every answer was wrong (except the sentences 1 and 2). I chose the answer option and the correction was exactly the same as my answer. You should take a look at that, thank you very much for these resources ;)

  5. Hi Laura, I've just checked Ex 1 and it seems to be working OK (I entered the correct answers from the answer button at the bottom of the page, then clicked on "Check", and all were marked correct. Are you sure you didn't include any end punctuation or contractions?

  6. Hi,

    This is a great post, but could some please explain why question 2 for exercise 4 (It was said that the tax changes helped poorer people.) becomes "The tax changes were said to help poorer people," instead of, "The tax changes were said to have helped poorer people"? The current answer doesn't seem consistent with the rest of the answers provided for that same exercise.

    Best, and thank you,

  7. @Chris Leckenby - Hi.

    In the reported sentence "It was said that the tax changes helped poorer people.", what was actually said was "The tax changes help poorer people". The action was still true at the time of speaking, so in the second version we use a straight infinitive, "The tax changes were said to help poorer people".

    If we say that "The tax changes were said to have helped poorer people", this would mean that the helping occurred before the reporting, in direct speech it would have been "The tax changes have helped poorer people", and so the original sentence in reported speech would have been "It was said that the tax changes had helped poorer people.".

  8. I just foudn this, and it is excellent. Just revise sentence 5 in exercise 4. You are writing the answer as if it were the question.

  9. Man you are a super hero and savior and I have never seen such an amazing and to the point explanation from anyone so far......Many many thanks to you

  10. Hi! Thanks for your material. It's very good! I have a question. In the exercise 4, sentence 3 and 6. IS there any grammatical rule, exactly, in case of changing the verb? Why is "to have broken out" (3) or "to have been"? I believe that in number 3 is "to break out" and in number 6 only: "to have". Is it possible? I want to understand! Thank you for your answer.

    1. Sorry for the delay in answering. In all the questions in that exercise both versions are possible. We can either use a structure with a personal subject, for example:

      "The president is thought to be planning a trip to the area."

      Or we can use a structure starting with impersonal "it":

      "It is thought that the president is planning a trip to the area."

      Both are equally correct, the first perhaps putting more emphasis on "the president".

  11. Thank you very much. These exercises are really helpful. All the best.