Passive Voice

The passive voice is often maligned by teachers and professors as a bad writing habit. Or, to put it in the active voice, teachers and professors across the English-speaking world malign the passive voice as a bad writing habit.

What is the passive voice?

In general, the active voice makes your writing stronger, more direct, and, you guessed it, more active. The subject is something, or it does the action of the verb in the sentence. With the passive voice, the subject is acted upon by some other performer of the verb. (In case you weren’t paying attention, the previous two sentences use the type of voice they describe.)

But the passive voice is not incorrect. In fact, there are times when it can come in handy. Read on to learn how to form the active and passive voices, when using the passive voice is a good idea, and how to avoid confusing it with similar forms.

The difference between active and passive voice

While tense is all about time references, voice describes whether the grammatical subject of a clause performs or receives the action of the verb. Here’s the formula for the active voice: [subject]+[verb (performed by the subject)]+[optional object]

Chester kicked the ball.

In a passive voice construction, the grammatical subject of the clause receives the action of the verb. So, the ball from the above sentence, which is receiving the action, becomes the subject. The formula: [subject]+[some form of the verb to be]+[past participle of a transitive verb]+[optional prepositional phrase]

The ball was kicked by Chester.

That last little bit—“by Chester”—is a prepositional phrase that tells you who the performer of the action is. But even though Chester is the one doing the kicking, he’s no longer the grammatical subject. A passive voice construction can even drop him from the sentence entirely:

The ball was kicked.

How’s that for anticlimactic? See More . . .

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