Worksheet: The Passive Voice in Newspaper Headlines (Intermediate ESL)

Newspaper Headlines – Active or Passive?

Headlines in newspapers are very short. They usually do not include punctuation, articles, and auxiliary verbs.

Newspaper headlines using the passive voice

Can you understand the headline here? Which of the below sentences is correct form of the headline?

  1.  “Cameron accused as troubled charity fails” (the active voice, where Cameron is the agent doing the verb.)
  2. Cameron is accused as troubled charity fails” (a passive voice, where Cameron is the object of the verb accused.)

The answer is… #2 — passive voice! The full sentence, written grammatically (with articles and punctuation) would be the following:

Camera is accused as his/the trouble charity fails.

Headlines are tricky, aren’t they? They can also be a great way to study the passive voice.

Task: Some of the headlines below are in the active voice and some are in the passive voice. Rewrite the headlines so that they are grammatically correct. This means inserting articles (a/an/the), punctuation (.,!), and the be verb if the sentence is passive. Good luck!

Note: To review the grammar for the passive voice, please visit our page on the passive voice and when to use it.

(Teachers: You can download the worksheet here to use in class: newspaper-headlines-passive.doc)

Toronto named ‘most youthful’ city in world

Answer

Toronto was/has been named ‘the most youthful’ city in the world.  (Passive)
Taylor Swift wins top prize at American Music Awards

Answer

Taylor Swift wins the top prize at the American Music Awards. (Active)

World’s Biggest Bookstore sold to developer

Answer

 The world’s biggest bookstore was/has been sold to a developer. (Passive)
Two baby baboons on display at Brooklyn zoo

Answer

Two baby baboons are on display at the Brooklyn zoo.  (Passive)
Scottish government reveals independence plan

Answer

 The Scottish government reveals an/their independence plan (Active)
World’s first electric helicopter takes flight in Germany

Answer

 The world’s first electric helicopter takes flight in Germany.  (Active)
Obama elected president for second term

Answer

Obama was/has been elected president for a second term.  (Passive)
Mothers asked nearly 300 questions a day

Answer

Mothers are asked nearly 300 questions a day.  (Passive)
2000 workers laid off by Ford motor company last month

Answer

2000 workers were laid off by (the) Ford motor company last month.  (Passive)

Please feel free to write comments or questions below about the passive exercise.

– Matthew Barton / Writer at Englishcurrent.com 

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42 comments on “Worksheet: The Passive Voice in Newspaper Headlines (Intermediate ESL)

  1. hepsi (Posted on 12-10-2013 at 12:02) Reply

    why cant- toronto has been named the most useful city in the world- be the right answer?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 12-10-2013 at 15:39) Reply

      You’re right. It can be. Thanks. I changed it.

  2. Anonymous (Posted on 1-26-2014 at 11:45) Reply

    It was very nice n it was useful for me at last movement.

     

  3. roobal (Posted on 2-4-2014 at 11:50) Reply

    Please give a detailed information about its usage.I am till now not able to find when to use active and when to use passive….

  4. Jimmy (Posted on 11-18-2014 at 13:52) Reply

    Boring. I hate it. I could be reading or skating instead of this.

  5. logu (Posted on 11-25-2014 at 10:13) Reply

    it is very nice to learn and i learned

  6. Riya (Posted on 2-22-2015 at 13:41) Reply

    I COULDN’T UNDERSTAND THE RULES ABOUT HOW TO WRITE A NEWS HEADLINES IN ACTIVE OR PASSIVE VOICE. PLZ………….DO HELP

  7. Anonymous (Posted on 2-26-2015 at 13:56) Reply

    WHY CANT IT BE….
    TOP PRIZE AT AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS HAS BEEN WON BY TALYOR SWIFT.

    OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT YOU KNOW ….

    I REALLY HOPE YOU THINK ABOUT IT…..

    1. Anonymous (Posted on 2-26-2015 at 13:57) Reply

      please think about it………..

      1. Anonymous (Posted on 2-26-2015 at 13:58) Reply

        can you help me…….
        I have to give my exams……………………………………………………

    2. mb Post author (Posted on 2-26-2015 at 20:44) Reply

      Your sentence grammatically fine. However, in the exercise above, you can’t change the words (e.g. you can’t change ‘wins’ to ‘won’). It’s about recognizing whether the newspaper headlines are passive or active voice.

      1. Anonymous (Posted on 3-1-2015 at 07:37) Reply

        oh thanks …
        you have cleared a lot but is my sentence correct if you had to change it into passive

      2. Anonymous (Posted on 3-1-2015 at 07:43) Reply

        OH..
        THANKS NOW I GET IT

        1. Anonymous (Posted on 3-1-2015 at 07:44) Reply

          YOU ARE GREAT

      3. Anonymous (Posted on 3-1-2015 at 07:58) Reply

        Is it like only past tense is passive…

        No right so .. how will the 1st one or several one of them be passive.
        How do you decide whether it is active or passive ….

        In conection to this I have read all your other active passive documents
        Can you,please solve my problem.
        I am a student of grade 6…………….

        1. mb Post author (Posted on 3-1-2015 at 10:44) Reply

          The passive can be used in the past, present, or future.
          To decide whether the sentence is active or passive, you need to look at the sentence’s subject. Is it the agent (actor) of the verb? Or is it the object of the verb? If it’s the object, then you’ve got a passive construction. If it’s the agent (or doer) of the verb, then it’s an active sentence.

  8. Anonymous (Posted on 2-26-2015 at 14:00) Reply

    I am the same anonymous person ………
    please help me within 48 hours ………

    I HAVE EXAMS

    ON TUESDAY……………………………………………HELP

  9. anonymous (Posted on 3-23-2015 at 07:44) Reply

    very good questions actually helped me to make out for my exams :tommorrow

  10. guria (Posted on 6-26-2015 at 11:31) Reply

    Why cant we use top prize at American music award is won by taylor swift. Plz clear my doubt

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 6-26-2015 at 12:28) Reply

      You can. But the purpose of the exercise is not to change _all_ the sentences to passive. The purpose is to recognize which sentences are active and which are passive. “Taylor Swift wins top prize” is an active sentence, and it does not contain any errors in the verb.

  11. cyftugujkjl (Posted on 7-22-2015 at 09:46) Reply

    there can be more exercies

  12. jayaritha (Posted on 8-30-2015 at 10:43) Reply

    very useful…… post

  13. shwetangi (Posted on 9-17-2015 at 13:08) Reply

    Freaking amazing….

    Love it …..

  14. Anonymous (Posted on 12-5-2015 at 06:07) Reply

    not bad

  15. Vandana bansal (Posted on 12-26-2015 at 09:28) Reply

    Gr8 ones
    Helped me a lot:)
    W8ng for more

  16. Anonymous (Posted on 1-12-2016 at 09:55) Reply

    This helped me to do my HOME Work thank you

  17. vedant (Posted on 2-4-2016 at 02:53) Reply

    when we use is/was and when we use has been /had been? how we recognise which helping verb should we use?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 2-4-2016 at 17:38) Reply

      – Use ‘is/are’ to change a sentence in the simple present into the passive voice. E.g. I make money. > Money is made (by me).
      – Use ‘was/were’ to change a sentence in the simple past into the passive voice. E.g. I hired John. > John was hired (by me).
      – Use ‘has/have’ to change a sentence in the present perfect simple into the passive voice. E.g. I have finished my homework > My homework has been finished (by me).
      – Use ‘had’ to change a sentence in the past perfect simple into the passive voice. E.g. I had phoned John. > John had been phoned (by me).

  18. Christine (Posted on 4-6-2016 at 09:42) Reply

    Can you help with this passive sentence, need to understand how to change it to active form.

    The site of the castle was carefully chosen

    e.g. is it:(someone) had to choose the site of the castle carefully?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 4-6-2016 at 14:39) Reply

      Active: Someone carefully chose the site of the castle.
      (The passive sentence is in past simple without ‘had to’ so the active sentence should be in past simple without ‘had to’)

  19. saroja (Posted on 7-21-2016 at 10:03) Reply

    Thank you very much it helped me in my project

  20. Gduercu (Posted on 11-30-2016 at 06:15) Reply

    It was a gud moment learning this

    1. anomoyescfd (Posted on 1-3-2017 at 16:58) Reply

      good* not gud

  21. Anonymous (Posted on 12-19-2016 at 09:45) Reply

    Make it in large sentence although it’s good and usefull

  22. Zana (Posted on 12-24-2016 at 13:14) Reply

    Hello this is very helpful for me. My presentation is about expanding headlines. Is this worksheet suitable for my presentation to apply in classroom? and which method?

    1. mb (Posted on 12-24-2016 at 13:50) Reply

      If I were you, I would use local headlines in your presentation. That will be more interesting for your audience.

  23. Anonymous (Posted on 1-23-2017 at 10:47) Reply

    Till more passive voice

  24. Anonymous (Posted on 3-8-2017 at 10:19) Reply

    300 questions a day were asked by (the) mothers.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 3-8-2017 at 12:44) Reply

      If it were an active sentence, the headline would be “Mothers ask 300 questions a day” (without the past participle). The past tense is possible, grammatically, however. Culturally, it’s interesting that some students who see the headline think the mothers are the ones asking questions. Typically in North America, we see children as the source of many (unnecessary) questions.

  25. Anonymous (Posted on 7-9-2017 at 10:35) Reply

    Nice question

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