Active Voice and Passive Voice

Video Lesson on Active Voice and Passive Voice

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Sentences can be active or passive. Mostly we use active sentences in our conversation, but sometimes we have to use passive sentences. Here in this article we will discuss active and passive voice and when to use passive sentences, but initially you have to know what is voice and difference between active voice and passive voice.

When a sentence is written, it can either be written in active voice or passive voice.

  • Active voice describes a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. For example: Tom changed the flat tire.
  • Passive voice describes a sentence where the subject is acted upon by the verb. For example: The tire was changed by Tom.

In most cases, writing sentences in passive voice is discouraged because it can obscure the subject of the sentence, and confuse the reader. It also usually creates a wordy and awkward sentence construction.

Defining Passive Voice

Every sentence contains, at a minimum, a subject and an action. The subject is the person or thing the sentence is about, and the action is what the subject is doing.

When a sentence is in active voice, the subject is doing the action and the subject typically comes before the action in the sentence.

For example:

I swim. I is the subject. Swim is the action. The subject doing the action comes before the action, so it is immediately clear to the reader who is doing what.

When a sentence is in passive voice, the subject is being acted on by the verb and the subject typically comes after the action.

For example:

Swimming is something I do. Here, the action is swimming. The subject is I. The sentence is in passive voice, since the person doing the action (I) is not mentioned until after the action

Some sentences also contain objects - the thing being acted upon. This can make it more difficult to determine whether the sentence is in passive voice. For example, here is a sentence in active voice:

Anna hits the ball. Anna is the subject. Hits is the action. The ball is the object.

That same sentence in passive voice reads:

The ball is hit by Anna.
The ball is the object - not the subject of the sentence.
The ball is not doing an action. Therefore, it should be after the subject (Anna)

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Tips to Recognize the Passive Voice

Sometimes a sentence in passive voice does not necessarily sound "wrong" or wordy. However, it is still best to write in active voice when possible.

In order to recognize that a sentence is in passive voice, watch out for these keywords:

  • Be
  • Is
  • Are
  • A
  • Was
  • Were
  • Has been
  • Have been
  • Will be
  • Being

How to Change Voice from Passive to Active

In order to change passive voice to active voice, you need to recognize what the subject of the sentence is and then rewrite the sentence so the subject is performing the action.
Let's use the following example to understand how to change passive voice to active voice:

Extensive training on the new safety procedures was required to be attended by the maintenance staff.
We can recognize that this sentence is in passive voice because the keyword was is used, and because it is not initially clear who or what this sentence is about. In order to correct the sentence:

Step One: Identify the subject of the sentence: who is doing an action? The training is not doing an action, so it can't be the subject. The only person or thing doing an action here is the maintenance staff. They are attending training. So, the maintenance staff is the subject of the sentence.

Step Two: Rewrite the sentence so the subject is performing the action. This sentence could be rewritten to active voice as follows:
The maintenance staff had to attend extensive training on the new safety procedures.
This rewrite makes it immediately clear to the reader who is doing what. The subject is doing the action.

Practice Changing Passive to Active Voice

Correct the following five sentences to practice changing passive to active voice. The answers are below:

  • 1. The jar is filled with sand.
  • 2. Reading is enjoyed by Mary.
  • 3. The town was destroyed by fire.
  • 4. The room will be cleaned by John every Saturday.
  • 5. Cheese was eaten by Sara.

Answers to Practice Sentences

  • 1.Sand filled the jar. (Sand is the subject, filled is the action)
  • 2. Mary enjoys reading. (Mary is the subject, enjoys is the action)
  • 3. Fire destroyed the town. (Fire is the subject, destroyed is the action)
  • 4. John will clean the room every Saturday. (John is the subject, clean is the action)
  • 5. Sara ate the cheese. (Sara is the subject, ate is the action)