A Tale of Two Voices: Active & Passive

7 Feb


Voice is the way in which an action verb relates to its subject and there are two ways this happens: active and passive.

Passive Voice – The subject of the sentence receives the action. A passive sentence typically combines a be verb with a past participle

The latest vampire movie, Dusk, was derided by most critics.

Active Voice – The subject of the sentence is “performing the action or causing the happening denoted by the verb.”

Most critics derided the latest vampire movie, Dusk.

An easier way to think about it? Active makes the subject do something while something is told about the subject in the Passive.

Active voice is nearly always preferred as those sentences are more direct and straightforward.

EXCEPTION! When the action or direct object is more important than the actor, use the passive.

A groundbreaking study in genetics was performed at Stanford last week.

While the subject (Stanford) is important, we care more about the object (groundbreaking study).

How to Spot the Passive

– To Be or Not to Be

Keep an eye out for the be verbs (is, are, was, were, has been, etc.), which are usually in front of another verb.

We were invited to the movie premiere of Dusk.

– Don’t Buy the By

Look for the preposition by and if the person or thing doing the action (i.e. the subject) is right behind it, you have a passive sentence.

We were invited by the director to the movie premiere of Dusk.

– Find the Verb, Find the Actor

Locate the verb. Find the person or thing (subject) doing the action in the verb. If you can’t find the subject, you likely have a passive sentence.

The bouncer was told to refuse our entry. {Whoever told the bouncer is the subject}

How to Fix It

Place the subject BEFORE the verb instead of after it. Voila!

The director invited us to the movie premiere of Dusk; however, the producer told the bouncer to refuse our entry. Most critics derided the film so we didn’t mind that we missed it.

Need help with your passive sentences?

The Writing Center is open from Mon-Fri 2:30-4:30pm. You can sign up in the Library – main counter – or email me a day/time at lincolnwriting@gmail.com



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