|Grammatically Correct 2/21/06
A weekly grammar tip created by Academic Center Peer Writing Tutors.
University of Houston-Victoria
3007 N. Ben Wilson
Victoria, TX 77901
|Active Voice vs. Passive Voice
by Kelli Trungale
In many academic fields, the type of “voice” a writer uses is of utmost importance. “Voice” refers to the relationship between the subject of a sentence and the action that the verb of the sentence implies. There are two types of voice that a writer can choose from, depending upon his or her rhetorical circumstances: active voice or passive voice.
Active voice provides the agent or the “doer” of the action that the verb calls for early in a sentence. Many instructors prefer this type of voice in their students’ writing because it is direct and clear.
Ex. Thieves stole my car last night.
In the example above, the central focus is on the thieves. They are the doers of the action—they’re the ones who have stolen the car. They are mentioned before the action is mentioned.
Passive voice places emphasis on the “receiver,” or the direct object, of the action in a sentence. Writers may choose to use this type of voice if they are trying to delay certain information, such as the doer, until the end of the sentence for intrigue or for strategical emphasis. Also, the writer may want to “hide” the doer altogether.
Ex. My car was stolen by thieves last night.
Ex. My car was stolen last night.
Notice how the focus of the first sentence is not on the thieves but on the car, which is the “receiver” of the action—it was stolen. The information about the doer is delayed. In the second example, the information about the doer is completely hidden.
The main indicator of passive voice is the use of a form of the verb to be (is, was, were, are, am) in front of a past tense verb. Here are some examples of passive phrases:
Is used Were sought Am called
Was completed Are needed Was read
Definition is adapted from Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster’s website.
|Recommended Grammar Website of the Week
by Kelli Trungale
Along with our website, we recommend the following site: Businesswriting.com On this site’s Passive and Active Voice page, visitors can read more about using the active voice when writing in the business environment. The page also includes an exercise that challenges visitors to change passive sentences into active sentences.
|Test Your Knowledge
by Kelli Trungale
Test your understanding by identifying whether each of the following sentences is written in active or passive voice.
1. Maria was taken to the hospital by ambulance last night.
2. I read the assigned text in a mere two days.
3. The nervous students took the exam in a classroom without air conditioning.
Now test your understanding by changing the following passive sentences into active sentences.
4. The guest room was cleaned yesterday.
5. The effects of advertising on children were studied by the university’s graduate students.
6. I am called “Bigfoot” by my friends and family members.
4. She cleaned the guest room yesterday.
5. The university’s graduate students studied the effects of advertising on children.
6. My friends and family members call me “Bigfoot.”
**NOTE: There is more than one way to change a passive sentence into an active sentence. In many instances the “doer” of the action may not be included in the passive version; therefore, the writer will have to create a “doer” when rewriting the sentence using active voice.
Comments about this newsletter should be directed to Summer Leibensperger, firstname.lastname@example.org.