Close Window to Exit

 Foreign Language
Success Strategies

First Edition, Volume I: August 2006  

Part II- English Language Grammar Primer & Exercises

Lesson 8

Objective : Upon completion of this lesson, you will:

• Describe and give examples of how passive voice can provide an alternative to the basic sentence types.
• Switch the verb voice from active to passive or from passive to active.

There are two voices we use to form sentences in English: active voice and passive voice. And, contrary to what your English teacher and grammar check may have told you, both are grammatically correct to use. There are several factors that go into how we decide whether to use active or passive voice. The first thing to consider is what we want to emphasize in a sentence. Knowing the definitions of active and passive voice will help you to understand this concept.

Active Voice
When you want to emphasize the agent, or doer, of the verb as the subject, use active voice. In active voice, the subject will perform the action of the verb or will be the topic of the sentence. Consider this sentence: “Clarence picked marigolds.” In active voice the subject (Clarence) performs the action, thus emphasis is put on the doer of the action.

Passive Voice
If you wish to emphasize something besides the doer of the verb, use passive voice. In a passive voice sentence, the subject is not doing the action of the verb, but it is still what the sentence is about. Passive voice sentences must have a direct object, thus the verb can only be transitive.

Let’s look at our marigold sentence again, except this time using passive voice: “Marigolds were picked.” The subject marigolds did not do the picking, but marigolds are emphasized in the sentence. Below are some circumstances when passive voice can be used.

1. To emphasize the object –
“How many have been killed in the fire?” (The people are the focus.)
2. To hide the actor –
“Mistakes were made.” (I don’t want to say who made them.)
3. The actor is unknown –
“The bank is being robbed.” (I don’t know who is robbing it.)
4. The actor isn’t important –
“Moscow was built in 1147.” (I don’t care who the builders were.)


Main Menu