When a sentence is written, it can either be written in active voice or passive voice.
Active voice is used when the subject performs the action stated by the verb.
For example: Tom changed the flat tire.
Passive voice is used when the subject is acted upon by the verb.
For example: The tire was changed by Tom.
In most cases, writing sentences in passive voice is discouraged because it can obscure the subject of the sentence and confuse the reader. It also creates a wordy and awkward sentence structure. Once you learn how to change passive voice to active voice, it's one less thing you'll have to edit.
Every sentence contains, at minimum, a subject and an action. The subject is the person or thing the sentence is about, and the action is what the subject is doing.
When a sentence is in active voice, the subject is performing the action and the subject (typically) comes before the action in the sentence. For example:
I is the subject. Swim is the action. The subject doing the action comes before the action, so it is immediately clear to the reader who is doing what.
Swimming is something I do.
Here, the action is swimming. The subject is I. The sentence is in passive voice, since the person doing the action (I) is not mentioned until after the action.
Some sentences also contain objects - the thing being acted upon. This can make it more difficult to determine whether the sentence is in passive voice. For example, here is a sentence in active voice:
Anna hits the ball.
Anna is the subject. Hits is the action. The ball is the object.
That same sentence in passive voice reads:
The ball is hit by Anna.
The ball is the object, not the subject of the sentence. The ball is not doing an action. Therefore, it should be after the subject (Anna).
Sometimes a sentence in passive voice doesn't necessarily sound "wrong" or wordy. However, it's still best to write in active voice whenever possible.
In order to recognize that a sentence is in passive voice, watch out for these keywords:
In order to change passive voice to active voice, you need to recognize what the subject of the sentence is and then rewrite the sentence so the subject is performing the action.
Let's use the following example to understand how to change passive voice to active voice:
Extensive training on the new safety procedures was required to be attended by the maintenance staff.
We can recognize that this sentence is in passive voice because the passive keyword "was" is used. Also, it's not initially clear who or what the sentence is about.
In order to change the sentence from passive to active:
Step One: Identify the subject of the sentence - who is doing an action? The training is not doing an action, so it can't be the subject. The only person or thing doing an action here is the maintenance staff. They are attending training. So, the maintenance staff is the subject of the sentence.
Step Two: Rewrite the sentence so the subject is performing the action. This sentence could be rewritten to active voice as follows:
The maintenance staff had to attend extensive training on the new safety procedures.
This rewrite makes it immediately clear to the reader who is doing what. The subject is doing the action.
Correct the following five sentences to practice changing passive to active voice:
(Answers are below.)
The jar is filled with sand.
Reading is enjoyed by Mary.
The town was destroyed by fire.
The room will be cleaned by John every Saturday.
Cheese was eaten by Sara.
Be more active. Sounds like something a parent would say to a child, right? Well, in a way, the English language is a bit of a parental figure. It guides us in the right direction and has a consistent set of rules to keep us out of trouble. To avoid the passive voice, remember some of those keywords to watch out for.
In our very first example, "The tire was changed by Tom," "was" and "by" are both trigger words for the passive voice. It's much clearer to be straightforward, and active, and say, "Tom changed the tire."
Feel like you're getting the hang of it? That's great! This is one of the most important rules for English writing. Before you close the book on the subject, read Active Voice Adds Impact to Your Writing so you're fully in control of your sentence structure.
Answers to Practice Sentences
Sand filled the jar. (Sand is the subject, filled is the action)
Mary enjoys reading. (Mary is the subject, enjoys is the action)
Fire destroyed the town. (Fire is the subject, destroyed is the action)
John will clean the room every Saturday. (John is the subject, clean is the action)