The Active and Passive Voices

Courtesy Oestara Publishing LLC

copyright 1996 Cynthia Joyce Clay

Please respect the copyright of the author by reproducing only for non-comercial purposes.

In the Active Voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action of the verb:

The children ate the candy.

The lady nibbled the fruit.

The slob guzzled the cola.

The saint gave the hungry people the beef stew.

The active voice tends to be more interesting and exciting to read.


In the Passive Voice, the subject of the sentence has the action done to him:

The award was won by the top pupil.

The essays were handed in to the teacher.

The lecture was given by the visiting professor.

The passive voice is used when who had done the action (the verb) is not known.

The passive voice is also used when you want to keep the doer's indentity secret.

For instance, if you wanted to get Tom in trouble you would say:

Tom threw the rocks at the birds. (active voice)

But if you have "honor among thieves" you won't tell:

Rocks were thrown at the birds. (passive voice)

In the case where you really do not know who do it,

it is better to use the passive voice than to use the active voice with

a vague word as subject.

They passed a law to ban smoking in all restaurants. (Active voice, the subject "they" is vague.)

A law was passed to ban smoking in all restaurants. (Passive voice, the sentence is clear and more interesting.)

Most of the time the active voice is better to use, but sometimes,

like in the sentences about the law agaisnt smoking in restaurants,

the passive voice makes a better sentence.


To make the active voice into the passive voice, follow this four step proceedure.


1. Make the direct object or the indirect object of the active voice sentence the new subject:

William kissed her full on the lips.

She ('Her' is the direct object, and so becomes 'she' becomes the subject.)

2. Add a 'to be' verb ('is', 'was', 'were', etc.) to the verb:

was kissed

3. Take the subject of the active voice sentence, and move it to the right of the verb--it is usually placed in a prepositional phrase:

by William

was kissed by William

4. Now it is easy to see where the 'full on the lips' belongs:

She was kissed full on the lips by William.

Here is another example:

Tom sent Merlene the package.

1. Merlene (The indirct object has been made the subject.)

2. was sent ( 'Was' has been added to the verb.)

3. was sent by Tom (The subject was moved to the right of the verb and put in a prepositional phrase.)

4. Merlene was sent the package by Tom. (It is clear where 'the package' belongs.)


To exercises for changing the active voice into the passive voice.

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