How to Give Your Writing the Appropriate Voice, I
by Owen Fourie
Active Voice and Passive Voice: What Are These Voices?
When you write, do so in the active voice. You have probably been told to do this, but how good is such advice?
Before you can answer this question, you need to understand the distinction between active voice and passive voice.
Get some clarity in this article, and then, in the next post, you’ll find out more about which voice to use in your writing.
What is the active voice?
Somebody or something did something.
This is the basic form of a sentence in the active voice.
The subject of the sentence does the action of the verb. The subject and the doer are the same person or animal or thing.
Look at these examples:
- The forestry company fired the woodsman.
- The woodsman sharpened his *ax.
- The president of the forestry company vacated the building in a hurry.
- The fire destroyed the building.
- The woodsman rescued many of the workers.
*The British spelling is axe.
What is the passive voice?
Something or someone was affected (acted upon) by somebody or something.
This is the basic form of a sentence in the passive voice.
The subject of the sentence receives the action of the verb. The subject and the doer are not the same person or animal or thing.
Look at these examples:
- The woodsman was fired by the forestry company.
- The ax was sharpened by the woodsman.
- The building was vacated in a hurry by the president of the forestry company.
- The building was destroyed by the fire.
- Many of the workers were rescued by the woodsman.
Follow the four different colors in the last example for active voice and passive voice and note that
- the object in the active voice becomes the subject in the passive voice;
- the passive voice takes a form of the verb “to be”: was, were, is, are, and so forth;
- the verb “to be” is followed by a past participle that serves as the main verb;
- the subject in the active voice often becomes the object of a preposition in the passive voice.
Obviously, this applies in all the above examples.
Sometimes, especially in cases of crime, where the doer of the action is still unknown, passive voice is useful:
The fire was started in the basement.
How can you tell if a sentence is in active voice or in passive voice?
To find the voice of any sentence, do this:
- find the subject;
- find the main verb;
- ask, “Is the subject doing the action stated by the verb?”
If your answer is
- yes, the sentence is in the active voice;
- no, the sentence is in the passive voice.
In the next article, we’ll discuss the voice that you should use in your writing.
In the meantime, I should help the woodsman find the person who tried to get him into trouble.
If there are any points about the grammar of active voice and passive voice that still puzzle you, ask here for clarification. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.
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