|Cindy Troy has been an English instructor in both secondary and collegiate classrooms for over twelve years.
She has both a bachelors and masters degree in English education. She was born and raised in Arizona, but recently moved to the small town of Henderson, Kentucky, where she now resides with her husband of 13 years and her two beautiful daughters. She currently teaches at Henderson County High School, and recently opened up her own editing business, Edited Write, to extend her skills beyond the classroom walls.
Aggressiveness Training for Your Sentences
So you’ve written something that you’re pretty sure is brilliant and then it happens … the grammar checker on your computer underlines a sentence in green. You click on it to see what could possibly be wrong, and it tells you “passive voice.” You’ve heard of this — you remember learning something about this in high school English class, but you’re not entirely sure what it is, and the “ignore” button is there mocking you, tempting you to leave the sentence the way it is. After all, you wrote it the way that you speak, and that should be good enough, shouldn’t it?
But wouldn’t it be great if when your computer tells you that a sentence is in passive voice, you could triumphantly fix it with a few strokes of the keyboard and walk away making both yourself and your high school English teacher proud?
In order to make these dreams come true, let’s review what, exactly, passive voice and active voice are. It all has to do with the subject and verb of the sentence. If the subject of the sentence is performing the verb, then the sentence is in active voice. If the subject of the sentence is receiving the verb, then the sentence is in passive voice. Need an example? Here’s a sentence: Bill threw the ball. What’s the subject? Bill. What’s the verb? Threw. Now ask yourself this: Did the subject (Bill) perform the verb (threw)? The answer is yes, Bill did the throwing. Ta Da: Active Voice. Now look at this sentence: The ball was thrown by Bill. What’s the subject of the sentence? The ball. What’s the verb? Was thrown. Did the subject (the ball) perform the verb (was thrown)? Nope. Balls can’t throw. So this sentence is passive because the subject is receiving the verb rather than performing it. Now either sentence gives the audience the same bit of information: there was a ball, and Bill threw it. But which one is easier to read and less wordy? The active voice sentence is. Active voice is more personal, easier to understand, and more concise. That is why you want to use it in your writing. While you’re reminiscing about high school grammar, let’s take a quiz. Test yourself and see if you can identify the following sentences as either active or passive. Remember, the question to ask is if the subject is performing (active) or receiving (passive) the verb.
1. The paper was read by Jill.
2. The technician repaired the television.
3. The project was completed by the team.
4. I was pleased by the results of the test.
How did you do? Well, let’s check your answers. In sentence one, ‘the paper’ is the subject, and ‘was read’ is the verb. Did the paper do the reading? Nope: passive voice. Sentence two: ‘the technician’ is the subject, and ‘repaired’ is the verb. Did the technician do the repairing? Yes: active voice. Are you doing okay so far? Let’s check out the remaining two sentences: #3: passive (the project received completion, it didn’t complete); and #4: passive (I received the pleasing, I didn’t please). So now that you can identify the passive voice sentence, the real test is being able to rewrite it in active voice so both you and your grammar checker can be satisfied.
Each of the following sentences is written in passive voice. Rewrite each one to make it active.
1. Harold was pleased by the comedian’s jokes.
2. The trees were damaged by the tornado.
3. The meal was prepared by the chef.
4. I was reminded by your note to take out the trash.
Let’s see how you did. You would fix sentence #1 by writing: The comedian’s jokes pleased Harold. #2: The tornado damaged the trees. #3: The chef prepared the meal. #4: Your note reminded me to take out the trash. Notice how much easier the active voice is to understand; it’s less wordy and more concise writing, which makes editors and publishers much more happy, not to mention all of those English teachers out there.