Anyone who has to do much writing needs to understand the difference between active and passive voice. Look at the following sentences:
Gloria parked the car under the bridge.
The car was parked under the bridge by Gloria.
The car was parked under the bridge.
The first sentence is in the active voice; the second and third sentences are in the passive voice. What’s the difference? In the active voice, the person doing the action (Gloria) is the subject of the sentence. In the passive voice, the object of the action (the car) is the subject of the sentence, and the doer of the action is mentioned in the “by…” phrase or left out altogether.
Passive voice always has a form of “to be” (is, are, am , was, were, has been, have been, had been, will be, will have been, being) followed by a past participle. The past participle of regular verbs end in “-ed.” The past participles of irregular verbs are, well, irregular: swim—swum, eat—eaten, get—got (or gotten), and so forth.
A form of “to be” + past participle = passive voice
Why is it important to understand the difference between active and passive voice? It’s important so you can avoid overusing the passive voice. The passive voice is not a grammatical error, but overusing it makes for bad style. Look at the following examples:
(Passive voice) In the book’s first chapter the conflict between science and religion is discussed.
(Active voice) The book’s first chapter discusses the conflict between science and religion.
The active voice is generally clearer, more direct, and less cumbersome than the passive.
Sometimes the passive voice is preferable. Use the passive voice when the actor is
1) Unknown: My car was stolen.
2) Obvious: Obama was elected president.
3) Unimportant: My car has been found.
But don’t let the passive voice become your default voice.
Change the following sentences from passive to active voice.
- It has been decided by City Council to have smoking in bars banned.
- A huge severance package has been given to the CEO by the corporation.
- Many important issues are covered by the author.
- Only one course of action is indicated by these results.
- In the study a link between obesity and diabetes is established.
- Many arguments in defense of smoking were made by the tobacco companies’ representative.
- Mouse droppings in the cupboard were discovered by Gertrude, and Pandor was sent out to buy a mousetrap.
- A balloon is inserted in the blocked artery and inflated. (To make this sentence active, you have to supply a subject. Who is doing the inserting and inflating?)
- A rise in ozone levels has been experienced in major metropolitan areas of Canada.
- The idea of putting a marinara sauce on pyrogies was conceived by Antonio Starchuk.
Answers: 1. City Council has decided to ban smoking in bars. 2. The corporation has given the CEO a huge severance package. 3. The author covered many important issues. 4. These results indicate only one course of action. 5. The study establishes a link between obesity and diabetes. 6. The tobacco companies’ representative made many arguments in defense of smoking. 7. Gertrude discovered mouse droppings in the cupboard and sent Pandor out to buy a mousetrap. 8. The surgeon inserts a balloon in the blocked artery and inflates it. 9. Major metropolitan areas of Canada have experienced a rise in ozone levels. 10. Antonio Starchuk conceived the idea of putting a marinara sauce on pyrogies.