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K12 LibreTexts

13.4: Passive Voice

  • Page ID
    6544
  • In English grammar, we make a distinction between active voice and passive voice. In sentences written with active voice, the subject is doing the action.

    1. The student wrote the paper.
    2. Rainwater flooded the basement.
    3. Jose argued that his house was no place for a dance party.

    In sentences written with passive voice, the subject is acted upon. Consider the same examples written in passive voice.

    1. The paper was written by the student.
    2. The basement was flooded by rainwater.
    3. That his house was no place for a dance party was argued by Jose.

    Compare the third example in both instances: They both have the same fundamental meaning, but the sentence written in passive voice is vague and awkwardly worded, while the same sentence in active voice is clearer and more succinct.

    Use the following steps to determine if a sentence is written in passive voice. We’ll use the same example sentence.

    Example 1 - The subject is not conducting the action, but is being acted upon.

    That his house was no place for a dance party was argued by Jose.

    Example 2 - A form of the be verb (am, is, are, was, were) appears with the past participle (-ed or –en) form of the verb.

    That his house was no place for a dance party was argued by Jose.

    Example 3 - The preposition “by [noun phrase]” either appears in the sentence or can be added. That his house was no place for a dance party was argued by Jose.

    See Chapter 12, Lesson 2, for a definition and examples of prepositions and prepositional phrases.

    Eliminate passive voice by making the subject the doer of the action. You can convert a sentence to active voice by exchanging the object of the preposition and the subject of the passive sentence

    Passive Voice - That his house was no place for a dance party was argued by Jose.

    Invert the subject and object, and the sentence changes to active voice.

    Active Voice - Jose argued that his house was no place for a dance party.

    However, sometimes passive voice is preferable when the object being acted upon is more important or when the doer of action is unknown.

    Example 1 - The rainfall total was measured using standard practices.

    Example 2 - My car was broken into last night.

    Review Questions

    Convert the following sentences from active voice to passive voice. If necessary, invent a subject for the active construction.

    1. Mistakes were made by top-level officials.
    2. The electricity was turned off by the power company.
    3. The vase was broken.
    4. The scientists’ assertions could not have been believed.
    5. When was the law implemented?