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Voice refers to the form of a verb that indicates when a subject performs the action or is the receiver of the action. Active voice means that a sentence has a subject that acts upon its verb. Passive voice means that a subject is a recipient of a verb’s action.

In English grammar, verbs have five properties: voice, mood, tense, person, and number; here, we are concerned with voice. The two grammatical voices are active and passive.

Active– He loves me.
Passive– I am loved by him.

In the above example of active voice, the subject is he, loves is the verb and me is the object.  In the example of the passive voice sentence,  I is the subject, am loved is the verb and him is the object.

Active Voice

When the subject of a sentence performs the verb’s action, we say that the sentence is in the active voice. Sentences in the active voice have a strong, direct, and clear tone. Here are some short and straightforward examples of active voice.

    • Monkeys adore bananas.
    • The cashier counted the money.
    • The dog chased the squirrel.

All three sentences have a basic active voice construction: subject, verb, and object. The subject monkey performs the action described by the verb adore. The subject the cashier performs the action described by the verb counted. The subject the dog performs the action described by the verb chased. The subjects are ‘doing’ -they take action in their sentences.

Passive Voice

A sentence is in the passive voice, on the other hand, when the subject is acted on by the verb. The passive voice is always constructed with a conjugated form of to be + the verb’s past participle. Doing this usually generates a preposition as well.

    • Bananas are adored by monkeys.
    • The money was counted by the cashier.
    • The squirrel was chased by the dog.

Take a closer look at the first pair of sentences, Monkeys adore bananas and Bananas are adored by monkeys. The active sentence consists of monkeys (subject) + adore (verb) + bananas (object). The passive sentence consists of bananas (object) + are adored (a form of to be + the past participle adored) + by (preposition) + monkeys (subject). Making the sentence passive flipped the structure and necessitated the preposition by. In fact, all three of the transformed sentences above required the addition of by.

The subject of the active sentence becomes the object of the passive sentence. Both the sentences have the same components but their structure changes. Active sentences are about what people or things do, while passive sentences are about what happens to the doer of an action.

Structure of Active and Passive Voice

Active voice describes a sentence where the subject is the doer of an action. Its structure goes like this-

    • Subject + Verb+ Object

Passive voice expresses an action that is carried out on the subject of the sentence. Its structure is-

    • Object + verb +subject

Rules for Active and Passive Voice

Active (A)Passive(B)
Anjana helps the old lady.The old lady was helped by Anjana.
The mother is feeding the baby.The baby is being fed by the mother.

 

    • The subject of the verb in the active voice (Anjana, the mother) becomes the object in the passive voice sentences.
    • It is a thumb rule that main verbs become the past participle form. (helps becomes helped, feed becomes fed.)
    • The auxiliary verb be (am, is are, was, were) is added before the past participle according to the tense of the verb.
    • Generally by is used before the object of the passive voice sentences.

Active and Passive Voice Usage

Using the active voice conveys a strong, clear tone and the passive voice is subtler and weaker. Don’t use the passive voice just because it sounds a bit fancier than the active voice. Still, there are times the passive voice is useful and called for.

Eg: The squirrel was chased by the dog.

That sentence construction would be helpful if the squirrel were the focus of writing and not the dog.

A good rule of thumb is to try to put the majority of the sentences in the active voice unless it can’t be written in any other way.

Changing Passive to Active

To change a sentence from passive voice into active voice, identify the subject. Here is an example of a business communication that could be strengthened by abandoning the passive voice.

    • An error has occurred with your account, but every attempt was made to remedy it.

That sentence is not incorrect, but it does sound a bit stiff and dishonest. It sounds less trustworthy than it could -almost evasive.

    • We made an error with your account, but we have made every attempt to remedy it.

To make that sentence active rather than passive, the subject was identified –we. It was our company that was responsible.

    • If there are any questions, I can be reached at the number below.

The structure of this sentence is weak because it doesn’t identify the subjects in either clause. Making it direct helps the cause.

    • If you have any questions, call me at the number below.

Voice and Tenses

Present Tense
Active- I write a novel.
Passive-  A novel is written by me.
Structure- Subject + auxiliary verb + past participle of the main verb+ by + object.

Present Continuous
Active- I am eating breakfast.
Passive- The breakfast is being eaten by me.
Structure-  Subject + auxiliary verb + being + by + object

Present Perfect
Active- I have played the game.
Passive- A game has been played by me.
Structure- Subject + has/have been + past participle + by + object

Past Tense
Active- I invited you to the party.
Passive- You were invited by me to the party.
Structure- Subject+be+ past participle+by+ object

  • Questions

Active- Did you show me the dress?
Passive- Was I shown the dress by you?

Past Continuous
Active- I was playing video games.
Passive- The video games were being played by me.
Structure-  Subject+auxiliary verb + being+ past participle + by +object

Past Perfect
Active- You had done the work.
Passive- The work had been done by you.
Structure- Subject+had+been+past participle + by + object

Future Tense
Active- He will play the match.
Passive- The match will be played
Structure- Subject+will+be+past participle +by+object

Future Continuous
Active- We will be watching the match.
Passive- The match will be being watched by us.
Structure-  Subject+ Will be+ being+ past participle+by+ object

Previous articleTagore as a Poet
δάσκαλος (dáskalos) means the teacher in Greek. Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature since 2006. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges coming under this directorate and is now posted at the Department of English, Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of the lecture notes that she prepared by referring to various sources, for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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