There are two types of voices: active voice and passive voice. The active voice is considered stronger than passive. Therefore, on sentence improvement questions, always seek out the active voice.
- The active voice occurs when the subject carries out the verb’s action.
- The passive voice occurs when the verb’s action is carried out upon the subject.
- Active: The gardener trimmed the hedges.
- Passive: The hedges were trimmed by the gardener.
- Active: Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn.
- Passive: Huckleberry Finn was written by Mark Twain.
To distinguish active or passive voice, the key question is: “Is the subject doing the action or is the action being done to the subject?”
The passive voice can only occur with transitive verbs. That is, verbs that can take on an object.
- So, in the first example above, the subject (S) is “gardener”, the verb (V) is “trimmed”, and the object (O) is hedges. The “gardener trimmed” is the core of the sentence, and the subject is carrying out the verb's action. Therefore, it’s the active voice.
- In the passive voice, the subject (S) is "hedges," and the verb (V) is still "trimmed." The "gardener" becomes an object (O) in a prepositional phrase ("by the gardener"). The verb's action is carried out on the subject.
- In the second example, the active voice is seen with the subject (S) is "Mark Twain", the verb (V) is "wrote". The subject carries out the verb's action.
- In the passive voice, what’s the subject then? The subject (S) becomes Huckleberry Finn. The verb (V) is "was written". "Mark Twain" is now the object (O). In this case, the verb’s action is carried out on the subject (the writing was done to Huckleberry Finn) making the voice passive.