Passive Voice by J Vincent

This topic sent me back to the language classes I’ve taken. French but in particular the Latin which relies heavily on an understanding of grammar. At the end of the blog I’ve placed a link to a good site on Passive Voice which may clear up what I’ve muddled for you. I’m concentrating on passive voice since understanding it enables you to more easily spot passive writing and edit it, when needed, into active voice.

In the active voice the verb is directly connected to the subject. Mel threw the ball. In passive the subject doesn’t “do or be” but is acted upon . The ball was thrown by Mel.

Another way of saying this is that you take the direct object (receiver of the action in my first example) and make it the subject as in my second example.

Passive writing is using some form of the “to be” verb: is, are, was, were, have, had, have been, is being etc. alone or with other verbs We are trained not to employ the passive voice in our writing but there are legitimate uses for it. Such as when it is important to draw attention to the thing being acted on. (The pine trees in Colorado are being ravaged by the pine beetle blight.—using active voice would emphasize the pine beetles.) OR when the subject/doer is not important such as in technical or scientific writing. (I heated the coal to release carbon dioxide. — Coal is heated to release carbon dioxide.)

Pardon the garmmar jargon but only verbs that are transitive can be changed to passive and vise versa. A verb is “transitive” if it has a direct object. A direct object answers the question who? or what? about the verb. Remember Mel threw the ball. Threw what? Ball answers the question and is the direct object of threw.

Some verbs cannot have objects. The verb “have” is one of these. We can say “I have an apple. but cannot say An apple has me. Have therefore is called intransitive.

Often doing is better than reading so here’s a quiz to take. I’ll post my take on the answers with explanations where necessary tomorrow.

Rewrite the following sentences changing passive voice to active. NOTE that some of the sentences don’t have passive voice or are alright or better with the passive.

  • 1 His hair was cut by a professional since it had been scorched in a fire.


  • 2 The Doctor’s Blessing was written by Patricia Davids.


  • 3 Last night the Wingnuts were told of their missing the playoffs by the manager.


  • 4 After all the arguing was over, the plan for the Boat House had been approved by the City Commission.


  • 5 An F4 tornado hit nearby and destroyed several homes.


  • 6 After a bout of rough housing a foul was called by one of the refs.


  • 7 The solution to the problem was quickly learned by the student, but it was also quickly forgotten by her.


  • 8 Contestants in the game were asked about their qualifications to play.


  • 9 For several days Robert was taken care of by his aunt.


  • 10 The girl was shocked by the language in the movie.

The use of active voice makes your writing more forceful, invigorating and action filled. It is usually the best choice but being aware of the uses of the passive can broaden your writing skills. Remember I'll post answers tomorrow.

Writing Center Univ of NC Passive Voice site

7 comments:

Tina said...

Joan: I am actually working with my students on the active versus passive dilemma. Thank you so much for the web link. I bookmarked it in my writing folder!

Joan Vincent said...

Glad it was a help Tina!

Reese Mobley said...

I wish I was an English teacher. :)

Joan Vincent said...

Reese, that's more you wish you had been an English teacher!

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Joan, for the excellent post.

Starla Kaye said...

Nice explanations, Joan, on a topic that is sometimes difficult.

Starla Kaye said...

Nice explanations, Joan, on a topic that is sometimes difficult.