between Active and Passive Voice Verbs when Writing
to use the passive voice:
The agent (doer) of the action is unimportant.
The pyramids were built thousands of years ago.
The agent is unknown.
Several robberies were committed during the night.
The agent is common knowledge, and mentioning it would be redundant.
George Bush was elected in 2000.
The writer desires to control focus of sentence.
de-emphasize the agent’s role in the action
The alarm was triggered by my son. [Passive construction shifts
focus away from the son’s responsibility.]
emphasize the party receiving the action
Jack was kicked by Jill.
use the active voice:
active voice is shorter and more direct.
The waiter dropped the tray of food.
Passive: The tray of food was dropped by the
voice is less awkward and clearly states relationship between
subject and action.
Your request for funding has been denied by the review committee.
Active: The review committee denied your request
voice sentence pattern propels the reader forward through your writing
thus avoiding weak prose.
Passive Voice Verbs:
have two voices: active and passive.
In active voice
sentences, the verb expresses the action in the sentence, the subject
performs the action, and the object is the recipient of the action.
Active sentences follow the pattern: subject-verb-object.
In a passive
voice sentence, the subject and object flip-flop. The subject becomes
the passive recipient of the action.
Jack was kicked
of Passive Voice Verbs:
voice requires a "double verb" and will always consist
of a form of the verb "to be" and the past participle
(usually the "en/ed/t" form) of another verb. Example:
be familiar with the forms of "to be" so that they can
easily identify the passive voice in their work.
forms of "to be": am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been
Note the forms
of "to be" in the examples of the verb "to kick"
in various forms of the passive voice:
was kicked-------------is going to be kicked
is being kicked---------will be kicked
has been kicked-------can be kicked
was being kicked------should be kicked
voice sentences will contain a "by" phrase indicting who
or what performed the action. Passive sentences can be easily transformed
into active sentences when the object of the preposition "by"
is moved to the subject position in the sentence.
cookies were eaten by the children.
Active: The children ate the cookies.
tunnels are dug by the gophers.
Active: The gophers dug the tunnels.
with permission from Oregon State University Business Writing web
page by Donna Shaw www.orst.edu )
1: Directions: Change the sentences below to the passive voice.
open these bottles easily.
The government built a road right outside her front door.
Mr. Ross broke the antique vase as he walked through the store.
When she arrived, the changes amazed her.
The construction workers are making street repairs all month long.
The party will celebrate his retirement.
His professors were discussing his oral exam right in front of him.
My son ate all the homemade cookies.
Corrosion had damaged the hull of the ship.
Some children were visiting the old homestead while I was there.
Change the sentences below to the active voice.
is being visited by hundreds of tourists every year.
My books were stolen by someone yesterday.
These books had been left in the classroom by a careless student.
Coffee is raised in many parts of Hawaii by plantation workers.
The house had been broken into by someone while the owners were
A woman was being carried downstairs by a very strong firefighter.
The streets around the fire had been blocked off by the police.
Have you seen the new movie that was directed by Ron Howard?
My car is in the garage being fixed by a dubious mechanic.
A great deal of our oil will have been exported to other countries
by our government.
with permission from Oregon State University Business Writing web
page by Donna Shaw www.orst.edu)
2 Revision Practice: Avoiding Passive Voice Verbs
Read this essay
carefully paying special attention to passive voice verbs. Revise
the essay by changing the passive verbs into active verbs where
1. Technological civilization has reached its
"advanced" state by the trial-and-error behavior of
3. those who lived before us. Many of the most useful
4. discoveries and inventions were the result of mistakes when
5. people were looking for something else. The New World was
6. found by Columbus, who was really looking for India. The
7. discovery of penicillin was speeded by somebody who left a
8. loaf of bread out to get moldy. Think how far behind
9. ourselves we’d be now if mistakes were impossible for us
11. Our knowledge is also increased by our mistakes, if
12. only because once a mistake has been made, a way of
13. correcting it must be found. If the mistake had not been
14. made by us in the first place, we might have had no reason
15. to learn how things are done. As I wrote the first version
16. of this essay, I made a few minor errors. As a result of my
17. mistakes, since I did discover them, I learned the
18. difference between continuous and continual; I learned that
19. useful has only one l (and that the rule goes for hundreds
20. of other words, like wasteful, harmful, spoonful); and I
21. learned how to use a semicolon when a comma won’t do.
22. Had I made no mistakes in the first place, I might
23. have had a pretty good essay, but I would still not have
24. known why.
25. Of course, mistakes have to be recognized for what they
26. are. If Columbus had thought San Salvador was India and let
27. things go at that, the world would be smaller today. Had
28. the moldy bread been tossed to the birds, the birds might
29. have become healthy while human life went on suffering from
30. raging diseases. (I realize these statements are somewhat
31. doubtful, but now I’m so curious about Columbus and
32. penicillin that I’m going to learn the real facts
34. Mistakes are made by computers, but only rarely by
35. comparison with the human brain’s continual bumbling.
36. beings, one might say, have emotions and desires and
37. prejudices that mistakes are the result of. Those quirks,
38. are not things that computers have. Distractions,
39. and fatigue are suffered by human beings but not by
40. computers. So it is possible to say that we are in a bit of
41. danger. If the time should ever come when most of the
42. world’s work is done by computers rather than by people,
43. fewer mistakes will be made. And fewer mistakes will mean
44. fewer of those useful discoveries and inventions brought
45. about by the stumblings of the human species.
the above Adapted from Readable Writing: Revising for Style by H.
Wendell Smith p 112-114.)
for Level 2 Revision Practice: Avoiding Passive Voice Verbs
have used the active voice to replace passive in lines 5-6, 7-8,
11, 12, 1, 25, 34, 37, 39, and 42-43. Remember an occasional passive-voice
sentence, if not awkward, may be appropriate.
3: Working with Passive Voice Constructions
Identify and eliminate the passive constructions in the sentences
topic chosen by the instructor for study in his section of English
2 must be approved by the Steering Committee. [Hint: Start with
"The Steering Committee."]
Recommendations concerning the type of study needed to assure adequate
definition of the larger problem and develop feasible options in
programs designed to eliminate or greatly reduce both the direct
and indirect effects within a reasonable time and at acceptable
cost were presented in the report. [Begin with "The report."]
Avoidance of such blunders should not be considered a virtue for
which the student is to be commended, any more than he would be
praised for not wiping his hands on the tablecloth or polishing
his shoes with guest towels. [Hint: Begin with "We should not."]
Collaborative analytical determinations were utilized to assess
the probable consequences of mechanical failure. [Start with "Analysts."]
The difference between restrictives and nonrestrictives can also
be better approached through a study of the different contours that
mark the utterance of the two kinds of element than through confusing
attempts to differentiate the two by meaning. ["One can."]
Individuals whose income is insufficient to lift them above poverty
must be provided with assistance from public sources. [Start active,
and try "Supplement."]
In the next thirty-five years it is expected that there will be
more engineering work to be done than has been done in all of recorded
history.[Make "The next thirty-five years" the subject.]
If expansion is not accomplished, then two less-efficient alternatives
must be acted upon: either the book sales will have to be in separate
quarters or else the whole enterprise will have to be moved to a
new location. [Try "we."]
Trees on average sites are expected to be about twenty inches in
diameter when they are eighty years old if they are managed properly
since youth. [Start "Managed properly."]
Any amended declaration should be filed with the Internal Revenue
Office with whom the original declaration was filed even if you
move to another district.