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Voice is the form of a verb that indicates whether the subject is doing the action of the verb or receiving the action of the verb. In active voice, the subject does the action of the verb.

Subject + verb + object. = Doer of action + verb receiver of action.

  • Yun caught the ball.
  • Karen fixed the problem.

In passive voice, the active subject and the direct object change places, and the subject receives the action of the verb.

Subject + verb by object. = Receiver of action verb by doer of action.

  • The ball was caught by Yun.
  • The problem was fixed by Karen.

Changing a verb from active to passive voice requires adding a form of the verb to be as an auxiliary and changing the main verb to its past participle form, as follows.

Simple Presentadvise her.She is advised by me.
Simple Pastadvised her.She was advised by me.
Simple Futurewill advise her.She will be advised by me.
Present Progressiveam advising her.She is being advised by me.
Past Progressivewas advising her.She was being advised by me.
Future Progressivewill be advising her.She will be being advised by me.
Present Perfecthave advised her.She has been advised by me.
Past Perfecthad advised her.She had been advised by me.
Future Perfectwill have advised her.She will have been advised by me.
Modalmust advise her.She must be advised by me.

If the doer of the action is stated in a passive sentence, the word by introduces the doer.

  • Lionel was kicked by a mule.

However, the doer of the action can be omitted, especially if the doer is unknown or impersonal.

  • Colin’s car was stolen. (We do not know who the thief was.)
  • The policy was revised in 1998. (Anyone working then might have revised it.)

Only transitive verbs can become passive. In fact, a simple test for determining if a verb is transitive is to try to make it passive.

Common Pitfall: Passive Voice

Novice writers tend to overuse passive voice. To combat this, many writing teachers advise students never to use passive voice.

Passive voice places the emphasis on the result of the action or the receiver of the action, rather than the actor or the action itself. This is appropriate in cases where the actor is unknown, unim-portant, impersonal, or anonymous. Passive voice often expresses policies or rules.

  • Smoking is prohibited in all areas of the building.

Scientific writing often uses passive voice to describe procedures or experiments.

  • A solution of one part sodium chloride and three parts water was prepared.

Passive voice can also be a kind of scapegoat, to avoid saying who did what.

  • The new regulation was approved without debate or public comment.

Who approved it, and why did they do so in secret? This passive sentence does not tell us.

Too many sentences in passive voice make a written passage wordy, sluggish, and dull. Use passive voice only where it is absolutely needed so that it will not lose its effect.

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