Active and Passive Voice

Manju submitted a request for information on “how to write passive sentences & cosutive [sic] sentences.” I’ll focus here on passive (voice) sentences, and how to distinguish them from sentences using active voice.

Active Voice

A sentence is written in the active voice if the subject—the main person, place, thing, or idea—performs the action.

Examples:

  1. Jonathan threw the ball across the street. (The subject, “Jonathan,” performed the action, “threw.”)
  2. Because it hadn’t been seen for decades, the obelisk surprised the audience when the lecturer presented it. (The subject, “obelisk,” performed the action, “surprised.” Note that we’re focusing on the subject of the independent, or main, clause.)

Passive Voice

A sentence is written in the passive voice if the subject—the main person, place, thing, or idea—receives the action.

Examples:

  1. The orchestra is conducted by Ms. Phelps. (The subject, “orchestra,” is receiving the action here. “Ms. Phelps” is conducting the orchestra, so she is the sentence’s “agent,” but not its subject.)
  2. The door was shut tight. (The subject, “door,” received the action, “was shut.” We don’t know, from this sentence at least, who performed the action.)

How to Identify Active and Passive Voice

To find out if a sentence is written in the active or passive voice, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What is the subject?
  2. Is the subject doing something?

If the answer to question 2 is “Yes,” the sentence is active; if the answer is “No,” the sentence is passive.

Thanks for the question, Manju!

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4 Responses to Active and Passive Voice

  1. Brenda says:

    im from Argentina and id like to ask you a question regarding passive voice. is there a way to turn the following sentence: who assassinated President Kennedy? into a passive one?

  2. Karl says:

    Brenda, here is an example of how the sentence might be rewritten in the passive voice: By whom was President Kennedy assassinated?

  3. ravi bedi says:

    Why is passive voice frowned upon so much. I find some passive expression too sophisticated, especially in the old novels. Some of them tongue-twisters, but likable, istead of the flat active voice.

  4. cristina says:

    Please tell me about the exceptions to the general rule regarding the use of passive or active voice in a sentence.
    The gerund and infinite to coulfd also apply to active and passive voice.
    How could you make this sentence into a passive voice.
    I eat breakfast in the restaurant early this morning.