The 95% "rule" This is very long, but it is very good. So, please try to read it with understanding. And then you should understand more.I think of the passive voice as one of the tools available to me as a writer. Ahandyman has many tools, and some of them are needed more often thanothers. But just because hammers and screwdrivers are appropriate formore tasks than some of the more exotic tools in his toolbox, that doesntmean he should just throw away all of the other tools. At some point he isbound to come across a task that calls for that weird little thingamajig healmost never uses, and when that happens, he will use that verythingamajig, not a hammer or a screwdriver. On the other hand, he wouldbe very foolish to try using that odd little tool when all he wants to do isdrive a nail or tighten a screw.
Even though it is true that the passive voice is sometimes needed, thatdoesnt mean it should be used very often. I tell my own students tomake sure that at least 95% of their verbs are in the active voice.*****In fact, even that may be too generous. No passive voice verb shouldbe allowed to stand unless it can justify itself. In other words, everytime you use a passive verb, ask yourself why you are using a passiveconstruction there. If you dont have a good reason for it, then rewritethe sentence to use the active voice. Many, even most, of your essayswill have no need at all for the passive voice, so keep it tucked away inthe bottom of your toolbox and bring it out only to do those jobs thatcant be done by the active voice. Now let’s go to work!
Active Voice, Passive VoiceThere are two special forms for verbs called voice: 1. Active voice 2. Passive voice
Active VoiceThe active voice is the "normal" voice. This is the voice that we usemost of the time. You are probably already familiar with the activevoice. In the active voice, the object receives the action of the verb: subject verb object active Cats eat fish.
In sentences written in active voice, the subject performs the action expressedin the verb; the subject acts. Examples: The dog bit the boy. Pooja will present her research at the conference. Scientists have conducted experiments to test the hypothesis. Watching a framed, mobile world through a car’s windshield reminds me of watching a movie or TV.In each example above, the subject of the sentenceperforms the action expressed in the verb.
Active Verb TenseWhat do they mean? Active verb tenses identify the time of the action in your sentences. Make sure not to confuse active verb tenses with the active voice. While writing in the active voice requires the use of active verb tenses, tenses refer to the time of the action, and voice refers to how verbs function with respect to a sentence’s subject. Writing in the active voice is only accomplished through the use of active verb tenses, with each identifying when in time the active action takes place.How are they created? Active verb tenses do not have a uniform form of construction. Sometimes the base or main verb is used in its simplest form, sometimes the present or past participle form is used and sometimes “to be” verbs are used in addition to a form of the main verb. Each tense is different, so make sure you are using the proper tense and verb construction when writing with active tenses. When using active tense verbs, the subject of the verb is the person or thing doing the action.
Simple present active tense Simple present tense signifies a current action that is habitual, a generalization or something that is a timeless fact. The base form of the verb by itself or with an “s” or “es” when writing in the third person forms the active form of this tense. Example 1: Finding solutions to real-world problems teaches the students. Example 2: The runner from the school’s biggest rival beat her. Example 3: All citizens are equal under the U.S. Constitution.
Present perfect active tense Present perfect tense shows an action that takes place in the past but is relevant to the present or flows into the present. “Has” or “have” followed by the past participle of the verb, ending in “ed” or “en” for regular verbs, forms the active form of this tense. Irregular verbs have endings based on the particular verb. Example 4: The school has notified the dancers regarding their acceptance into the program. Present progressive active tense The present progressive tense shows an action that is temporary or an ongoing activity. “Am,” “is” or “are” followed by the present participle (ending in “ing”) forms the active form of this tense. Example 5: The company is manufacturing the purses overseas.
Simple past active tenseThe simple past tense shows a general or habitual action that occurred in thepast, sometimes at a specific time. The base form of the verb with an “ed” endingor the irregular past tense verb is used to create an active form of this tense. Example 6: The principal reprimanded the students for their actions. Example 7: The principal taught the students a valuable lesson (irregular past tense verb).Past perfect active tenseThe past perfect tense signifies an action that happened prior to a certain timeor prior to a separate action in the past. “Had” followed by the past participleform of the verb, usually ending in “ed” or “en,” is used to create the activeform of this tense. Example 8: The meeting had excited the students since the idea formed for it.
Past progressive active tenseThe past progressive tense signifies an action that is ongoing in the past or onethat continues through a certain time in the past. “Was” or “were” followed bythe present participle form of the verb (ending in “ing”) creates the active formof this tense. Example 9: The student meeting was excluding the teachers. Simple future active tenseThe simple future tense notates an action that is expected to take place at somepoint in the future. “Will” followed by the base form of the verb creates oneactive form of this tense. “Is going to,” “am going to” or “are going to” followedby the base form of the verb creates a second active form of this tense. Example 10: Sarah’s professors will post her grades at the end of the semester. Example 11: Sarah’s professors are going to post her grades at the end of the semester.
Future perfect active tenseThe future perfect tense notates an action that is completed in the futureprior to another future action or period in time. “Will have” followed by thepast participle form of the verb, usually ending in “ed” or “en,” creates theactive form of this tense. Example 12: Careful lending practices will have improved the economy.Future progressive active tense The future progressive tense identifies an action that is going to occur in the future with an emphasis on an action that is continuing. “Will be” followed by the present participle form of the verb (ending in “ing”) creates the active form of this tense. Example 13: You will be washing your laundry when you go home over spring break.
Passive VoiceThe passive voice is less usual than the active voice. The active voice is the"normal" voice. But sometimes we need the passive voice.In sentences written in passive voice, the subject receives the actionexpressed in the verb; the subject is acted upon. The agent performingthe action may appear in a "by the . . ." phrase or may be omitted. The boy was bitten by the dog. Research will be presented by Pooja at the conference.
by ? Experiments have been conducted to test the hypothesis.I am reminded of watching a movie or TV by watching a framed, mobile worldthrough a car’s windshield.Sometimes the use of passive voice can create awkward sentences, as in the lastexample above. Also, overuse of passive voice throughout an essay can cause yourprose to seem flat and uninteresting. In scientific writing, however, passive voice ismore readily accepted since using it allows one to write without using personalpronouns or the names of particular researchers as the subjects of sentences (see thethird example above). This practice helps to create the appearance of an objective,fact-based discourse because writers can present research and conclusions withoutattributing them to particular agents. Instead, the writing appears to conveyinformation that is not limited or biased by individual perspectives or personalinterests.
So what is the passive voice? First, lets be clear on what the passive voice isnt. Below, well list some common myths about the passive voice:1. Use of the passive voice constitutes a grammatical error. Use of the passive voice is not a grammatical error. Its a stylistic issue that pertains to clarity—that is, there are times when using the passive voice can prevent a reader from understanding what you mean.2. Any use of "to be" (in any form) constitutes the passive voice. The passive voice entails more than just using a being verb. Using "to be" can weaken the impact of your writing, but it is occasionally necessary and does not by itself constitute the passive voice.
3. The passive voice always avoids the first person; if something is in firstperson ("I" or "we") its also in the active voice. On the contrary, you can very easily use the passive voice in the first person. Heres an example: "I was hit by the dodgeball."4. You should never use the passive voice. While the passive voice can weaken the clarity of your writing, there are times when the passive voice is OK and even preferable. 5. I can rely on my grammar checker to catch the passive voice. See Myth #1. Since the passive voice isnt a grammar error, its not always caught. Typically, grammar checkers catch only a fraction of passive voice usage. Do any of these misunderstandings sound familiar? If so, youre not alone. Thats why I wrote this. It discusses how to recognize the passive voice, when you should avoid it, and when its OK.
Construction of the Passive Voice The structure of the passive voice is very simple: subject + auxiliary verb (be) + main verb (past participle) The main verb is always in its past participle form.Look at these examples: auxiliary verb main verb (pastsubject (to be) participle)Water is drunk by everyone.100 people are employed by this company.I am paid in euro.We are not paid in dollars.Are they paid in yen?
The passive forms of a verb are created by combining a form of the "to be verb" with the past participle of the main verb. Other helping verbs are also sometimes present: "The measure could have been killed in committee." The passive can be used, also, in various tenses. Lets take a look at the passive forms of "design." Auxiliary PastTense Subject Singular Plural ParticiplePresent The car/cars is are designed.Present perfect The car/cars has been have been designed.Past The car/cars was were designed.Past perfect The car/cars had been had been designed.Future The car/cars will be will be designed.Future perfect The car/cars will have been will have been designed.Present The car/cars is being are being designed.progressivePast progressive The car/cars was being were being designed.
A sentence cast in the passive voice will not always include an agent ofthe action. For instance if a gorilla crushes a tin can, we could say "Thetin can was crushed by the gorilla." But a perfectly good sentencewould leave out the gorilla: "The tin can was crushed." Also, when anactive sentence with an indirect object is recast in the passive, theindirect object can take on the role of subject in the passive sentence: Active Professor Villa gave Jorge an A. An A was given to Jorge by Passive Professor Villa. Passive Jorge was given an A.
Only transitive verbs (those that take objects) can be transformed intopassive constructions. Furthermore, active sentences containing certainverbs cannot be transformed into passive structures. To have is the mostimportant of these verbs. We can say "He has a new car," but we cannotsay "A new car is had by him." We can say "Josefina lacked finesse," butwe cannot say "Finesse was lacked." Here is a brief list of such verbs*: resemble look like equal agree with mean contain hold comprise lack suit fit become
Verbals in Passive StructuresVerbals or verb forms can also take on features of the passive voice. An infinitivephrase in the passive voice, for instance, can perform various functions within asentence (just like the active forms of the infinitive). Subject: To be elected by my peers is a great honor. Object: That child really likes to be read to by her mother. Modifier: Grasso was the first woman to be elected governor in her own right.The same is true of passive gerunds. Subject: Being elected by my peers was a great thrill. Object: I really dont like being lectured to by my boss. Object of preposition: I am so tired of being lectured to by my boss.With passive participles, part of the passive construction is often omitted, theresult being a simple modifying participial phrase.[Having been] designed for off-road performance, the Pathseeker does not always behavewell on paved highways.
Use of the Passive VoiceWe use the passive when: 1. we want to make the active object more important 2. we do not know the active subject subject verb object give importance to active object by Lee Harvey President Kennedy was killed (President Oswald. Kennedy) active subject My wallet has been stolen. unknownNote that we always use by to introduce the passive object (Fish are eatenby cats).
Look at this sentence: He was killed with a gun. Normally we use by to introduce the passive object. But the gun is not the active subject. The gun did not kill him. He was killed by somebody with a gun. In the active voice, it would be: Somebody killed him with a gun. The gun is the instrument. Somebody is the "agent" or "doer".
Is passive always bad? No. Often its useful. The test will be completed by me. ?? Why not write “I completed the test”?? Or Why not write "The test was completed." This is passive but thats ok if you dont care who completed the test. On the line, the bolts are adjusted to the correct tightness. Who cares who “tightens the bolts"? Does it matter? No. So passive is ok here. Cars will be made from plastic in the future. Here the focus is on cars -- not who makes them and that is appropriate here.
How can you tell if a sentence is passive? To have a passive sentence, you need 3 elements: 1 BE (is/ are/ was/ were/ been/ be) + 2 VERB + 3 Past Form was shocked will be found <past form/irregular has been determined is requested
Conjugation for the Passive VoiceWe can form the passive in any tense. In fact, conjugation of verbs in thepassive tense is rather easy, as the main verb is always in past participleform and the auxiliary verb is always be. To form the required tense, weconjugate the auxiliary verb. So, for example: present simple: It is made present continuous: It is being made present perfect: It has been made
Here are some examples with most of the possible tenses: infinitive to be washed present It is washed. past It was washed. simple future It will be washed. conditional It would be washed. present It is being washed. past It was being washed. continuous future It will be being washed. conditional It would be being washed.
present It has been washed. past It had been washed.perfect simple future It will have been washed. conditional It would have been washed. present It has been being washed. past It had been being washed.perfect continuous future It will have been being washed. conditional It would have been being washed.
Choosing Changing Active passive to Voice active Some suggestionsChoosing Changing Passive active to Voice passive
Choosing Active Voice In most nonscientific writing situations, active voice is preferable to passive for the majority of your sentences. Even in scientific writing, overuse of passive voice or use of passive voice in long and complicated sentences can cause readers to lose interest or to become confused. Sentences in active voice are generally--though not always-- clearer and more direct than those in passive voice. passive (indirect) active (direct):The entrance exam was failed by over Over one-third of the applicants to theone-third of the applicants to the school. school failed the entrance exam.
passive (indirect) active (direct):The brakes were slammed on by her She slammed on the brakes as the caras the car sped downhill. sped downhill. by ?Your bicycle has been damaged. I have damaged your bicycle.(agent omitted) Sentences in active voice are also more concise than those in passive voice because fewer words are required to express action in active voice than in passive.
passive (more wordy) active (more concise)Action on the bill is being considered by The committee is considering action onthe committee. the bill.By then, the soundtrack will have been By then, the sound engineers will havecompletely remixed by the sound completely remixed the soundtrack.engineers.
Changing passive to activeIf you want to change a passive-voice sentence to active voice, find the agent ina "by the..." phrase, or consider carefully who or what is performing the actionexpressed in the verb. Make that agent the subject of the sentence, andchange the verb accordingly. Sometimes you will need to infer the agent fromthe surrounding sentences which provide context.Passive Voice Agent Changed to Active Voice The book is being read most of the class Most of the class is reading the book. by most of the class.
Passive Voice Agent Changed to Active Voice by ? agent not specified; The researchers will publish theirResults will be published most likely agents such results in the next issue of thein the next issue of the as "the researchers" journal.journalA policy of whitewashing the CIA director and his The CIA director and his closeand cover-up has been close advisors advisors have pursued a policypursued by the CIA director of whitewashing and cover-up.and his close advisors. by ? Mistakes were made. agent not specified; most likely agents such as "we" We made mistakes.
Choosing Passive VoiceWhile active voice helps to create clear and direct sentences, sometimeswriters find that using an indirect expression is rhetorically effective in agiven situation, so they choose passive voice. Also, as mentioned above,writers in the sciences conventionally use passive voice more often thanwriters in other discourses. Passive voice makes sense when the agentperforming the action is obvious, unimportant, or unknown or when awriter wishes to postpone mentioning the agent until the last part of thesentence or to avoid mentioning the agent at all. The passive voice iseffective in such circumstances because it highlights the action and what isacted upon rather than the agent performing the action.
active passive Police are being notified that threeThe dispatcher is notifying police prisoners have escaped.that three prisoners have escaped. A new experimental liver-transplantSurgeons successfully performed a operation was performed successfullynew experimental liver-transplant yesterday.operation yesterday. "Rules are made to be broken," he said"Authorities make rules to be defiantly.broken," he said defiantly. In each of these examples, the passive voice makes sense because the agent is relatively unimportant compared to the action itself and what is acted upon.
Changing active to passiveIf you want to change an active-voice sentence to passive voice, considercarefully who or what is performing the action expressed in the verb, andthen make that agent the object of a "by the..." phrase. Make what is actedupon the subject of the sentence, and change the verb to a form of be + pastparticiple. Including an explicit "by the..." phrase is optional.Active Voice Agent Changed to Passive VoiceThe presiding officer The presiding officer The committee’s recommendationvetoed the committee’s was vetoed by the presidingrecommendation. officer.
Active Voice Agent Changed to Passive VoiceThe leaders are seeking a fair The leaders A fair resolution to the crisis isresolution to the crisis. being sought. (by the leaders)Scientists have discovered Traces of ice have been discovered on The scientiststraces of ice on the surface of the surface of Mars. (by scientists)Mars.In each of these examples, the passive voice is useful for highlighting theaction and what is acted upon instead of the agent.
Some suggestions1. Avoid starting a sentence in active voice and then shifting to passive. Unnecessary shift in voice Revised Many customers in the restaurant Many customers in the restaurant found the coffee too bitter to drink, found the coffee too bitter to drink, but it was still ordered frequently. but they still ordered it frequently. He tried to act cool when he slipped in He tried to act cool when he slipped in the puddle, but he was still laughed at the puddle, but the other students still by the other students. laughed at him.
2. Avoid dangling modifiers caused by the use of passive voice. A danglingmodifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word not clearly stated in thesentence.Dangling modifier with passive voice RevisedTo save time, the paper was written on To save time, Kristin wrote the paper ona computer. (Who was saving time? The a computer.paper?)Seeking to lay off workers withouttaking the blame, consultants were Seeking to lay off workers withouthired to break the bad news. Who was taking the blame, the CEO hiredseeking to lay off workers? The consultants to break the bad news.consultants?)3. Dont trust the grammar-checking programs in word-processing software.Many grammar checkers flag all passive constructions, but you may want tokeep some that are flagged. Trust your judgement, or ask another humanbeing for their opinion about which sentence sounds best.
Quiz Read each of the following sentences and decide if the are in passive voice or the active voice. Click on you choice.1. I ate a piece of chocolate cake. Passive Active2. The librarian read the book to the students. Passive Active3. The money was stolen. Passive Active4. They are paid on Fridays. Passive Active5. The movie is being made in Hollywood. Passive Active
6. I washed my car three weeks ago. Passive Active7. His hair was cut by a professional. Passive Active8. I will introduce you to my boss this week. Passive Active9. It would have been fixed on the weekend. Passive Active10. The national anthem is being sung by Jason Passive Activethis time.