Monday, July 30, 2007

Predictable Problems in Sentence Structure 04: Active and Passive Voice

Active/Passive Voice

My method for demonstrating these predictable sentence problems is to use simplified sentences that illustrate the problem and solution clearly and to conclude with some long sentences in which the problem is almost hidden. Additional practice and explanation can be found on the Internet which lists hundreds of thousands of Web sites dealing with the topic.

Question: I’ve been told to use the active voice as often as possible. What is it and why?

Answer: Active voice simplified sentence: “The boy hit the ball.” Passive voice simplified sentence: “The ball was hit by the boy.” In the active voice, the subject, or “boy,” is doing the action: he is hitting the ball. In the passive, the subject, “ball” is receiving the action from the boy.

True, having the subject do the action is more direct and clear in meaning. The passive, as the word implies, is an indirect statement, slows the action and often hides who is responsible for the action. For example: “Mr. Jordan has ordered drug tests for everyone.” Mr. Jordan, in the active voice, is the subject of the sentence and is taking responsibility for ordering the drug tests. The passive, “It has been decided that all employees will have drug tests” hides the subject, the person responsible for the drug tests. The passive is often used to hide responsibility.

Below are some longer examples of passive sentences transformed into active sentences, from Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition, 1986.

Passive: “After the computers had been installed by the service reps, a training session was held for us by them.”

Active: “After the service reps installed the computers, they held a training session for us.”

Passive: “A community meeting was held by the area homeowners to discuss the landfill project, which had been proposed by the City Council.”

Active: “Area home owners held a community meeting to discuss the City Council’s proposed landfill project.”

On the Internet: To practice turning passive sentences into active sentences, type “passive active voice” into the Google search engine. You will find 1,900,000 Web sites containing more discussion of the issues involving active and passive voice and plenty of exercises.

All the best. RayS.

No comments: