Key Grammar Series

IELTS Lessons, written by Sam Morgan and Tom Speed

Last in our grammar series we looked at Infinitives of purpose. Today we are learning how to use active and passive language to help us describe processes that we often see in task 1 of the IELTS academic writing test.

We also have a guide to writing about processes for you to try.

For more Band 7 Grammar lessons, follow these links:

Subordinate Clauses
Complex Noun Phrases

Warm Up Activity – Key Vocabulary

First let’s study the vocabulary that we will be using in today’s lesson. Match the words to the definitions by selecting a word, then selecting a gap.
agent   ·  stream   ·  form   ·  extract   ·  condense   ·  abandoned  
Click or touch a word above
1. Verb – when gas changes to liquid
2. Noun – a small river
3. Noun – the one that does an action
4. Verb – to be left alone
5. Verb – to create
6. Verb – to remove from the ground

​The active voice

We usually describe natural processes with the active voice. This means that the subject of the sentence does the action of the verb.
For exampleWorkers crush the rocks.
The subject ‘workers’ does the action ‘crush’.

​Activity 1 – Subject Verb Gapfill
​​The text below describes the natural water cycle. This is a natural process. Write the correct form of the verb in parentheses (  ) in each gap in order to complete the text.​
Image | NASA Education
At the point that warm air (reach) high ground, it is forced to ascend, and, as a result, it (cool). Moisture in the air (condense) and forms rain. The rain (fall) on the highlands and (find) its way into streams and rivers from which it (flow) towards the sea. Then the process can (begin) again.

It is important that the subject and verb agree. If a subject is an ‘it’, such as water or rain, then the verb is followed by ‘s’ or ‘es’ (see – sees / go – goes). This simple rule is known to all students but many forget about it when writing. Note that after ‘can’ the verb does not have an ‘s’. 

The Passive Voice

The passive voice is used when the person or thing that does the verb is not known or is unimportant so in the passive voice the subject of the sentence is not the agent (doer) of the verb.
For example: The letters are taken to the sorting station.

In this sentence, the subject (‘the letters’) is not the agent of the verb (‘taken’) – somebody takes the letters  (in this context, it is not important who does the action) ​- and so the construction is passive. The action is done to the subject.
Notice the form of the verb be – are.
To form the passive, we use be past participle (verb 3). You must use the correct form of the verb be for number, person and tense. Usually, when we describe a process we would use the present simple (is/are) unless it is explicitly stated to be a past or projected future process.
If we want to include the agent of the verb we can use ‘by’.
For example: The letters are taken to the sorting station by postmen.

​Let’s practice this grammar with a few activities.

Activity 2 – Passive or Active?
Read the sentences and decide if each one is active or passive.
1. Many houses are built of stone in my hometown.
2. My uncle built his house over 5 years.
3. There was a fluctuation in the number of homeowners over the period.
4. Construction projects were abandoned due to problems with financing.
5. Many new houses are planned for the east side of town.
6. Rising wages lead to greater consumer spending.
7. The greatest portion of the budget was spent on improving the building in terms of fire safety.
8. Building fast, not safe, was seen as the greatest priority at the time.

Activity 3 – Passive Process Gapfill
​Manufacturing processes (man-made processes) are usually described using the passive voice. The following text is concerned with the production of cement. Fill in the gaps with the correct passive voice form of the verbs given in parentheses ( ). Don’t forget to use the correct form of the verb be!
Image  – Uniseafish (recycled beer cans) at the Pest bridgehead of Lánchíd, Budapest| Elekes Andor [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]
First, used bottles are (put) in the plastic recycling bin. Next, the used bottles (collect) and (take) to the factory which will recycle the bottles. Following transportation, the bottles (heat) and (melt). Then they (form) in to new bottles. After cooling, the recycled plastic bottles (distributed) to companies in order that they can (refill) and sold to the public.
Image  – Ethiopia National cement factory
​| Gavin Houtheusen/Department for International Development [CC BY 2.0 (]
Cement (make) from a number of ingredients. The primary ingredient of cement is limestone. Limestone (form) millions of years ago from dead sea creatures. It (extract) from the ground. After extraction it (take) to a factory. After it arrives, it (crush) Then, it (heat) to a high temperature with various other ingredients. Following this, cold air (cool) the limestone mixture down into cement.

We hope you have found this lesson useful. Don’t forget to like our facebook page to receive regular IELTS lessons.

Up next, let’s study singular and plural nouns.