Understanding Active and Passive Voice

Active vs Passive voice

•If the subject performs the action of the verb, we call the verb “active.”
•If the subject receives the action of the verb, we call the verb “passive.”
•A verb that is neither active nor passive is a linking verb, a form of the verb “to be.”

Two myths worth debunking

1 – Passive structure is bad.

2 – Passive structure is any action-impaired sentence that uses an -ing or -ed verb with a form of to be (e.g. is or was).

First, Understand Passive Voice

It occurs when the object of an action is made the grammatical subject of a sentence. Passive voice emphasises the receiver, the victim, instead of the actor.

Example: “The box was placed on the floor by John.”

Though passive voice can be a problem, and yes it’s often a problem for beginning writers. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always a bad thing. Sometimes, passive form is appropriate or even necessary.

The money was stolen.”

This sentence is in fact a passive construct. It can only be made active if the subject is known (who stole the money). In some cases, it’s best to leave this in the passive and keep the mystery in the story.

In other situations, the passive form is more beautiful than the active form.

Example: John is considered the worst serial killer of his time.
People consider John the worst serial killer of his time.

Understanding active voice

Active verbs move the action and reveal the actors.

Correct passive structures into active structures by rearranging the doer and doee.

John was watched by Mary. (passive)
Mary watched John. (active)

Learn to recognise active voice:

Emma was walking.

This may seem like a passive sentence but it isn’t. Emma is the doer of the action and the subject of the sentence. The ‘voice’ of verbs (active or passive) has nothing to do with the ‘tense’ of verbs. Tense defines action within time, when the verb happens. Voice defines the relationship between subject and verb, who does what.

Hall, R. (2014) Writing Vivid Settings.