Please tell me the passive form (if there is) of the following sentence:

Leave at once.


  • be leaving at once?
    – Jodrell
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 11:04
  • @Jodrell that is not passive voice.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 11:32
  • 2
    In English, intransitive verbs (those that don't take an object) cannot be put in the passive. "Leave" can be transitive ("Leave this house at once") but isn't in this example. (And in case anybody asks, "Leave this house at once" could have a passive: "Be left at once", talking to the house; but it isn't very likely).
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 11:35

2 Answers 2


Imperatives can be changed to passive by using "let"

"Eat the cake" - "Let the cake be eaten"

However, in "Leave at once", the main issue is not with the phrase being an imperative but with the verb "to leave" being, in this case, intransitive (i.e. has having no direct object).

"John left", similarly cannot be turned into passive voice, however, "John leaves the pen behind" can be changed to passive: "The pen is left behind (by John)"

Similarly "(John) leave the pen behind" can be transformed to "(John) Let the pen be left behind"

  • 2
    Neil Coffey wrote in the original thread: "In general it's a slightly silly exercise to try and 'turn' an active imperative into a passive or vice versa, because the choice depends more on which argument of the verb is most naturally the element to be 'commanded'." John Lawler disagreed, saying it was "more than slightly silly". There is an imperative passive, perhaps an elided form: 'Don't [allow yourself to] be fooled.' 'Let the cake be eaten' is hardly a passive transformation of 'Eat the cake!' It's a formulaic subjunctive. Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 14:29
  • @EdwinAshworth I totally agree that it's mostly silly. Isn't 'Let the cake be eaten' still passive though, since there's still no specified agent? Maybe I should pose this as a new question
    – msam
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 15:43
  • Here [section 5] is the analysis I buy into (but they've misspelt 'indicative'). Wikipedia [section 4] lists various passive constructions nicely. Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 16:11

'Leave at once' is in the imperative mood. I don't think there is a way of putting it in the passive, at least I can't think of one.

However even if it was written indicatively, 'He left at once', it is difficult to see how a passive could be formed, because there isn't even an implied direct object.

But if 'leave', were used transitively, in the indicative e.g. 'He left the building', you could form a passive - 'the building was left by him'.

I am willing to bow to any grammarian who can offer better than this.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.