Active versus Passive Voice:
When we use “active” voice, the verb tells us what the subject is or does in the present, past, or future. For example: The girl weeds the flowerbeds.
Girl is the subject because she is what he sentence is about; weeds, the verb, tells us what the girl does; and flowerbeds, the object, receives the action of the verb since flowerbeds are what the girl weeds.
In the passive voice, the subject and object are reversed:
The flowerbeds are weeded by the girl.
The flowerbeds were weeded by the girl.
The flowerbeds are being weeded by the girl.
Now, the subject of the sentence has become flowerbeds instead of girl; and girl has become the object of the preposition by.
To create passive voice, a writer uses some form of the “be” verb as a helper, usually am, are, is, was, were, and the past participle of the main verb.
The problem with passive voice is that what should be the subject of a sentence becomes the object of a preposition, and as a result, your sentences lose strength. Therefore, instead of saying, “My checks are cashed by the bank,” say, “The bank cashes my checks.”
On occasion, however, a writer may want to call attention to the receiver of the action instead of the doer of the action; for example, “She was accosted right outside the bank.” The writer wants to highlight the woman who was accosted, not the unknown person who accosted her.
Exercise: Change the following constructions from passive to active voice.
- That levee was built by the Corps of Engineers to withstand hurricanes.
- Crime and Punishment, a novel by Dostoevsky, was read by Jane in one sitting.
- The fine job you have done will be rewarded by your employer.
- The house was designed by Stephen and his new wife.
- The entire cake was eaten by Frank.
- The portrait was painted by a professional artist for Bob’s 70th birthday.
- The Corp of Engineers built that levee to withstand hurricanes.
- Jane read Crime and Punishment, a novel by Dostoevsky, in one sitting.
- Your employer will reward the fine job you have done.
- Stephen and his new wife designed the house.
- Frank ate the entire cake.
- A professional artist painted the portrait for Bob’s 70th birthday.