I have to put this sentence in passive:

She took a long time to write the composition, but at last she wrote it.

Trying to write this in passive, I wrote the following:

The composition took a long time to have been written.

Does this correspond okay to the original sentence, or is there a less clumsy way to put it?

  • 3
    The composition took a long time to write.
    – JeffSahol
    May 16, 2012 at 13:53
  • I don't think such comments are expected too; 'Your answer is ungrammatical, by the way, but what else could one expect from such a silly question?' Can I block this person?
    – Monica
    May 16, 2012 at 14:24
  • 1
    Monica -- John is raising some legitimate problems with the exercise. It can sound a little strident when somebody points this kind of thing out, but as it stands, it is a bit of a silly exercise. May 16, 2012 at 15:49
  • @monica, There are several high-value contributors to ELU and JohnLawler is definitely in that group in my opinion. If you read his answers I guarantee you will learn something new.
    – Jim
    May 16, 2012 at 16:05
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    Monica: as I say below, I don't think anybody's holding you personally responsible for the silliness of the exercise. If anything the opposite: I think John is really saying "no wonder you're finding the exercise difficult because it's ambiguous to begin with and liable to lead to an ungrammatical sentence". So please, don't take it the wrong way: we're simply trying to point out that there are some flaws with the exercise itself, whoever's fault that may be. May 16, 2012 at 16:34

5 Answers 5


I am not 100% sure what the question wants, as the body text says 'passive' but the title says 'present perfect passive', and the answer looks like an attempt at a present perfect passive.

Assuming the title is accurate, then:

"It took a long time, but the composition has been written at last."


I suspect the question requires only the final clause to be made passive. In that case it would be She took a long time to write the composition, but at last it was written.


If you really for some reason wanted to put the entire sentence in the passive, then you would end up with:

A long time was taken (by her) to write the composition, but at last it was written.

If you were to passivise the infinitive (though the interpretation doesn't effectively change), then you would also need the specifier "for":

A long time was taken (by her) for the composition to be written, but at last it was written.

If you wanted to include the agent (originally the subject of the active sentence-- "she") then you could insert the "by her" in brackets. But usually the point of using the passive is that the agent isn't mentioned.

Passivising the first part of the sentence is somewhat unnatural (but just about plausible), so Barrie England may well be right that what was intended was for you to passivise only the second part of the sentence.


Here is one way of writing "She took a long time to write the composition, but at last she wrote it," in passive voice:

The composition was written by her after a long time, but at last it was written.

Passive voice in this case places the object of the sentence where the subject should rightfully be, were active voice used.

  • Syntactically, these aren't passives, though. May 16, 2012 at 15:33
  • First, neither of your sentences is passive as requested by the OP. Second, passive sentences are used where actor is not needed, not because the writer can't do anything else. Third, simple sentences are for children and get very boring after about three of them. May 16, 2012 at 15:35
  • I corrected my response to answer the question asked.
    – treehead
    May 16, 2012 at 15:59

Sentences cannot be Passive; only clauses.

And this sentence has three clauses because it has three verbs: take (time), a tensed idiom; to write, an infinitive; and wrote, another tensed verb. They're connected in complex ways.

So the question is ambiguous. Which clause should be made passive? It makes a difference.

Your answer is ungrammatical, by the way, but that was to be expected for the reasons outlined above.

  • 1
    Monica -- although in a slightly cutting way, John raises some legitimate problems. There are three clauses in your sentence, and as you'll see in my answer, it's not clear exactly which parts you mean to passivise. And in any case, the exercise turns an otherwise natural sentence into an unnatural one. So, in a sense, it is a bit of a silly exercise! May 16, 2012 at 15:45
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    @NeilCoffey. "Slightly" cutting way? To me his remark sounds insulting. I'm sure his arguments are perfectly sound and his reasoning quite logical but, as I pointed out elsewhere, EL&U is also meant for "enthusiasts of English", not just for "retired professors of linguistics". His biting tone would probably be acceptable if used when arguing with a colleague, but we can't expect everybody to know all that we know. Besides, what would the reason be for using EL&U if we all knew the same things and there was no room for personal improvement?
    – Paola
    May 16, 2012 at 16:03
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    Paola/Monica -- I really tihnk you may be taking this the wrong way. If anything, John is being critical of the exercise. Put slightly more delicately, he's saying: "In trying to complete the exercise, you've ended up with a sentence that isn't grammatical, but really that's to be expected because the exercise isn't very sensible to begin with". He's not saying "I think you're a bad or stupid person for undertaking this exercise", merely that it turns out that when analysed in detail, the exercise doesn't make much sense. I really wouldn't take it so personally. May 16, 2012 at 16:29
  • 4
    Whoever set the question didn't know what they were about. I had intended to express some scorn for the teacher or textbook who set it. Anybody who tries to answer it (as the OP apparently had to) is set an impossible task; so naturally it can't be done, no fault of the OP. May 16, 2012 at 17:05
  • 2
    My apologies if I was misunderstood; but this is a common problem here, since people ask questions with seriously wrong presuppositions, usually foisted off on them by incompetent teachers or silly textbooks, which can't be given reasonable answers. Viva voce, this can be cleared up; in writing, in the formalistic scenario here, it's hard to correct the presuppositions without appearing to be criticizing the poster. May 16, 2012 at 18:13

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