When you write a sentence, it can either be written in the passive voice or the active voice.
* The active voice describes a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. For example, ‘Brian replaced the flat tyre’.
* The passive voice describes a sentence where the subject is acted upon by the verb. For instance, ‘The flat tyre was replaced by Brian’.
In most cases, writing sentences in a passive voice is discouraged because it can obscure the subject of the sentence, and mislead the reader. It also regularly creates a wordy and clumsy sentence construction.
Defining Passive Voice
Every sentence contains, at a 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 the sentence is in the active voice, the subject is doing the action, and the subject typically arises before the action in the sentence. For example:
* I run. I is the subject. Run is the action. The subject doing the action appears before the action, so it is clear to the reader who is doing what.
When a sentence is in a passive voice, the subject is being acted upon by the verb, and the subject usually appears after the action. In an example:
* Running is something I do. Here, the action is Running, and the subject is I. The sentence is in a passive voice because the person doing the action (I) is not introduced until after the action.
Sometimes sentences also contain objects – or the thing being acted upon. This can make it more difficult to define whether the sentence is in a passive voice. For example, here is a sentence in an active voice:
* Philip hits the ball. ‘Philip’ is the subject. ‘Hits’ is the action. So the ‘ball’ is the object.
That same sentence in passive voice reads:
* The ball is hit by Philip.
* The ball is the object – which is not the subject of the sentence because the ball is not doing the action. Therefore, it should be after the subject (Philip)
Tips to Recognise the Passive Voice
Often a sentence in passive voice does not inevitably sound “incorrect” or wordy. However, it is still proper to write in active voice when possible.
To recognise that a sentence is in a passive voice, watch out for these keywords:
* Has been
* Have been
* Will be